Psalms and Our Narcissistic Gospel
One of the most disturbing trends in contemporary Christianity is its audacious use of scripture to feed its narcissism.
This trend is showcased by its construction of Psalms 40 and 88. Psalm 40 starts out this way:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
One popular Bible teacher has written a best-selling book on this psalm. "Get out of the Pit!" she says. "The Pit is anything that we can't get ourselves out of," be it sin, our past, or even our emotional weaknesses.
Psalm 88 starts out like this:
O Lord, God of my salvation,
hen, at night, I cry out in your presence,
et my prayer come before you;
ncline your ear to my cry.
For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
like those forsaken among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
Here is how one popular Bible teacher reads it:
I read Psalm 88 recently in my devotions, and it filled me with thanksgiving. Which might seem odd. Because this psalm just may be the most bleak of the canonical songs. Heman the Ezrahite, the apparent composer, was seriously depressed. Maybe he was chronically ill. Or maybe, like many, he battled almost constantly against a relentless darkness. We really don't know. But he said he had been this way since his youth (v. 15). He felt abandoned by God (v. 14), his beloved (v. 18), and companions (v. 8). He was desperate and his prayers seemed to be going unanswered (vv. 13-14). He was so overwhelmed that he felt close to death (vv. 3, 15).
So why did this psalm make me feel so thankful? Simply because God mercifully included it in the Bible. I find that amazing. . . .
I've been there. I've known that kind of darkness. And this Psalm is a gift from God to his children. It's a song for them to sing during the desolate moments, which one day will be swallowed up in unending light.
There are other psalms one should meditate on in such times, like Psalm 27 and Psalm 139. And the Bible as a whole resounds with hope. But Psalm 88 is a merciful reminder from God that the experience of darkness is "common to man" (1 Corinthians 10:13), that when we're in it we are not as alone as we feel, and that he is with us after all.
In my new book, In Christ, I show that both of these psalms aren't about us or our petty little problems. They are the first-person prayers of Christ himself during his sufferings between his death on the cross and his resurrection.
We would do well to take our eyes off of ourselves and put them back on the captain of our salvation where they belong.
Photo Credit: "Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn - Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves ("The Three Crosses") - Google Art Project" by Rembrandt.