When you think of the book of Psalms, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Poetry? Songs? Praise? How often do you think about theology when reading the psalms? How about conviction? Do you seek out instruction and wisdom when you read this piece of Jewish wisdom literature? Maybe those are exactly the things you look for when you turn to the psalms. If so, go away because you are ruining the whole point of this article.1
If you are like me, you probably read the Psalms hoping to be lifted up and inspired. You go the Psalms for times of praise and worship. That is great, and one of the main reasons the Psalms are as popular and well read as they are.
But that is not all we can take away from them. In fact, the psalms are full of difficult and challenging lessons. Things we desperately need to hear and consider, but sometimes overlook because we are too focused on the inspirational and the poetic. Here are five hard truths you will find in the psalms if you pay attention.
Being corrected by a godly friend is a very good thing – Psalm 141:5
I do not like confrontation. I hate confronting people, even people that I love dearly. Being confronted is probably worse. I don’t like it when my failings or flaws are brought into the light. It makes me defensive and angry. My guess is, most people feel the same. Psalm 141:5 tells us that godly reproof is a kindness. It is something we should not refuse. Righteous confrontation works like medicine; it heals. Not only does godly correction heal like medicine, it is a soothing medicine. That is something we should welcome with open arms. And we should be willing to share that medicine with those that God has placed in our lives. Not in an effort to judge or criticize, but to build up, strengthen, and heal.
We cannot hide anything from God – Psalm 139
I realize that if you have been in church for any length of time, this one seems obvious. And in some ways it is. God’s omniscience is a foundational Christian doctrine. It is one of His defining attributes. So sure, we know that God knows everything. But do we live that way?
In Psalm 139, David paints an incredibly vivid and all-encompassing view of just exactly what it is that God knows and sees. He knows what we are going to say before we say it (Verse 4). Even more, He knows our very thoughts (Verse 2). There is nowhere we can go where God cannot (Verses 7-12). The beauty of this psalm is that David did not write this from a place of fear or guilt. Instead, he rejoices in this truth. He welcomes it. He asks God to search his heart and test his thoughts for anything that might offend. That blows my mind. I yearn for that kind of openness and transparency with God. Because, as it stands, I am the one pretending that there is anything I can keep from His eyes.
Life is not fair – Psalm 10
Bad things happen to the innocent (verses 2, 8-12, 14,17-18). Good things happen to the wicked (verses 5-6). The wicked do bad things to the innocent (all over this psalm). From our perspective, this is unfair. Wicked and evil people should not be able to oppress the poor, attack the helpless, and take advantage of the innocent. Yet that is exactly what happens. All the time. Everywhere. We are part of that vicious system. And it sucks. We cannot hope to fix it. The Fall has ensured that life will be hard and unfair for all of us. We can’t fix it, but we can take our grievances to the One who can. The psalmist rants and raves about the injustice all around him, but he ultimately recognizes that God is in control and will set things to right in His time and His way. Not ours.
We don’t care nearly enough about the downtrodden, the orphans, and the widows
(Too many Psalms to list them all. See footnotes for a quick sampling.) 2
There is a line of thought that runs throughout Scripture. God cares deeply for the least of these. Namely those that cannot protect themselves, those that cannot advocate for themselves, the poor, the oppressed, and the victimized. And the Psalms are bursting with this truth. God’s eyes are always on those we do our best to not see. Psalm 68 makes this clear, “Father of the fatherless, defender of the widows–this is God.” We should care about the things God cares about. And frankly, we don’t.
Unconfessed sin will make us sick – Psalm 32
When was the last time your sin made you miserable and weak? Did it make you groan all night? I hope you sin infrequently. But when you do sin, I urge you to confess it immediately so God’s hand of discipline is not heavy on you.
My guess is that we live with sin too often. We harbor anger towards others. We lust. We lie. And we do not confess our sins like we should. So our lives are unfulfilled and without victory. David shares the secret of how to fix this: Confess and stop trying to hide our sins. God will forgive! Our guilt will be gone. And God promises us more! “The LORD says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you'” (Psalm 32:8). Why hold on to unconfessed sin when we have a promise like that from God?
What other hard truths have you learned when reading the Psalms? I would love to read what you have encountered in your studies. Share with us in the comment section below.