After I became a Christian during my freshman year of college, the Psalms were such a comforting oasis of honest poetry to me because of how raw and candid they were when I read them. In the months following my decision for Christ, Psalms was always the book I turned to first when I started my private times in the Bible simply because I felt like as I read the Psalms, they were actually reading me.
I loved how “human” they were by the fact that I could easily see myself in their words. In many cases, it was almost as if my reflection could be spotted when the Psalm scandalously described frustration, anger, or confusion with God. Psalm 13 (a Psalm of David) gives us a good example of what I’m talking about:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)
In this text, David is essentially asking God if he cares at all about his life. He’s questioning God’s timing, goodness, and sovereignty all in two little verses. He’s taking intentional time to write out the deepest, darkest parts of his thought process for us, and inso doing, David becomes a representation for humanity living in a sinful world.
I won’t speak for you, but I’ve certainly asked some of these questions in my mind and heart…maybe not in the same poetic rhetoric of King David, but I’ve asked the questions nonetheless. In the midst of the most difficult trials of my life, I’ve prayed, “Where are you, God? Remember me? How long will I have to put up with this misery? When will this pain come to an end?”
And following my hostile questioning when I’ve felt the subsequent pang of guilt for doubting God’s love in the midst of my hurt, reading Psalms like this one have always brought me genuine comfort. It’s reassuring to know that the guy labeled a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) doubted God in the exact same way I have doubted him in the past.
Not only is there biblical evidence of doubting God found in one Psalm—it’s all over the book. Psalm 10:1 asks God why he hides himself in times of trouble, Psalm 22:1-2 (the Psalm Jesus quotes while he is being crucified) asks God why he has forsaken David, Psalm 74:1 wonders why God has cast Asaph off forever, Psalm 77:7-9 questions whether God’s love has forever ceased, and on and on (Psalm 79:5, Psalm 94:19, and nearly all of Psalm 137).
The Psalms not only give us permission to explore our negative feelings, by example, they almost force us to lean into them. I like how pastor Lynn Anderson describes this exploration when he says, “The Psalms give us permission to beat on God’s chest.”
The imagery here is vivid, and it resonates with me because I can imagine myself crying with my face buried in God’s chest and screaming, “Why would you let this happen to me?”
It’s easy for me to picture because I kind of already did something like this a few years ago. I suffer from chronic pain due to a herniated disc in my lower back that puts pressure on my sciatic nerve. It’s been a daily battle for me, and after about three years into it, I remember standing in my bathroom with tears running down my face and my head buried in the towels that hung from the rack. I beat the wall through the towels and audibly said, “Have you even heard anything I’ve prayed about over the last three years? Where are you, God? Why won’t you help me?”
So yeah, I get it. And consequently, I like when the Psalms get super real. It helps to know that I’m in good company when I wrestle with the same kind of doubts that King David had, and struggle with the same questions that are asked in Psalm 22. Doubt and pain can be incredibly isolating, and the book of Psalms helps us to know we are not alone when we doubt.