Reading the Psalms almost feels schizophrenic. The Psalms alternate between expressions of lament and expressions of praise. Many of the Psalms voice sadness and pain and confusion, while others explode with joy and adoration of God. In fact, these two types of Psalms are often juxtaposed next to each other. I think the reason for this is that this reflects our human experience—one day we feel low and depressed and maybe removed from God, and the next day we have a deep sense of God’s presence and love.
You see this, for example, in Psalms 22 and 23. In Psalm 22, you hear the writer’s sense of desperation—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(words which Jesus spoke from the cross and words which he must have had in mind when he spoke them). Or Psalm 22:11, “Do not stay so far from me, for trouble is near, and no one else can help me.” Psalm 22 is a cry of loneliness and an appeal for God to respond. Following on the heels of Psalm 22 is Psalm 23, best known as the shepherd’s psalm. Psalm 23 is a ringing affirmation of God’s presence—“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This juxtaposition of these two psalms might seem strange at first. But the one who arranged the psalms is reminding us that we often move between lows and highs in our emotions and in our walk with God—and that no matter what position we are in at any given moment, the psalms put language to our feelings.
There’s a similar pattern in Psalms 102 and 103. The writer of Psalm 102 is gripped with despair and affliction. Psalm 102:6, “I am like an owl in the desert, like a little owl in a far-off wilderness.” He feels abandoned by all of his friends and abandoned by God. By contrast, Psalm 103 bursts with confidence in the majesty of God and his unfailing kindness. Psalm 103:10, “He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.” The writer goes on to say that God removes our sins as far as the east is from the west. The pairing of these two psalms is deliberate. The poet is moving from a posture of confusion (Psalm 102) to a posture of praise and worship (Psalm 103). We need both psalms to express what we feel at different times in our lives. And especially to remind us that even though we go through seasons of discouragement and disappointment with God, a better season is waiting—a season of robust faith in what God is doing.
Psalm 34 has for years been my favorite psalm. The writer describes a time of travail in his life, followed by a time of hope and joy. He reminds us that “the LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34:19-20). He does not varnish over the fact that we may experience heartache and suffering. But he also affirms that on the other side of our hurt, God is waiting to deliver us. I am so thankful that the Psalms provide a candid look at our low times, then lift our eyes to the promise that God will see us through, no matter what!
For more on the book of Psalms, see this link to the Bible Project: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=you+tube+bible+project+psalms&view=detail&mid=3449F2FCE0BA6DAAC4D43449F2FCE0BA6DAAC4D4&FORM=VIRE