John Donne, that great poet-preacher-Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral felt that his age was a shifting one. He wrote a poem that expressed his sorrow over the changes in culture by lamenting the passing of a distinguished lady in society. He wrote, “’Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone.”
Donne’s summary of the world in his day might be our sentiment in our day. We are standing at the twilight of a new day in the world. Behind us is modernity, with its focus on the rationale. Born out of the Enlightenment the philosophical foundations were built on the certainty of man’s abilities. We are entering the Post-Modern period built on the shifting sands of mystery, unknowing, and relative. Whereas Rene Descartes was the patron saint on modernity, with his, “I think, therefore, I am;” it may be that Nietzsche is the poet of post-modernity, “…[O]ne word only points to another word and never to reality itself. No one interpretation can ever be regarded as final. As in interpretation, so in life: everything becomes undecidable.”
Into this decidedly undecided world comes the Bible and the Bible believing Christian. And I think that the cure for our despondency and the despair that comes to a world without absolute truth is the powerful and pleasant Psalms of the Old Testament. They are given by God for such a time as this.
Why did God give us the Psalms? And why are they so powerful in times like ours?
I turn to the oldest Psalm to get our answer: Psalm 90. Moses is the author. As we all know, King David is the chief author of the Psalms. He wrote 73 of the 150. Yet it is in this first Psalm, in terms of age, that we can, indeed, discover the Holy Spirit’s beautiful blessing that will come from each and from all of them.
1. God gave us the Psalms as a prayer book for our lives (1).
2. God gave us the Psalms to know Christ (1).
3. God gave us the Psalms to learn through poetry and song (1).
4. God gave us the Psalms to experience the transcendence and the imminence of God at once (2)
5. God gave us the Psalms to affirm the mystery of life (3-6)
6. God gave us the Psalms to show us our sins (7-11)
7. God gave us the Psalms to remind us of the brevity of life (12)
8. God gave us the Psalms to express our heartfelt longings (13-15)
9. God gave us the Psalms to discover His will for our lives (16)
10. God gave us the Psalms to learn to pray aright (16-17)
11. God gave us the Psalms to reveal His sovereign grace to us (17).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.”
We need that power today more than ever. Christ is in the Psalms and to pray the Psalms and sing the Psalms and live the Psalms is to not only find the strength we need in our lives, it is to find the gift of God for our world.
This is an outline of a message that I gave at Westminster Presbyterian Church. The full hour of teaching can be heard here.