One of the reasons the Psalms have been such a strong encouragement to God’s people throughout the ages is that they display the full range of human emotion in a nuanced and understanding way. From the deepest sorrows to the most ecstatic joys, every emotional experience in your life can be found represented somewhere in the 150 individual songs that make up the book of Psalms. This has been a great encouragement to God’s people for so long because our emotions often vary wildly from day to day, and they can often feel overwhelming to those who believe that Christian emotions should always be simple and consistent.
In our culture, we regularly feel the pressure to project an image that everything is okay. When someone asks, “how are you doing?” they expect you to say “I’m doing good!” even when you aren’t. In fact, if you’ve ever tried to answer that question in any other way, you may have found that it lead to a great deal of awkwardness for everyone involved. And this pressure to project unwavering positivity often bleeds over into church culture as well. In some churches, any admission of sorrow or despair is considered to be an admission of faithlessness. “If only you had more faith,” someone might say, “you would be happy instead of depressed!” In these contexts, spiritual maturity is often equated with outward happiness, and it is the people who seem the most happy who are often considered to be the most godly. In contexts like these, churchgoers of all kinds face the pressure to wear their best clothes to church, smile, and say that everything is okay, even if they are deeply struggling with feelings of sorrow and despair.
Thankfully, you don’t need to read the Psalms for very long to find that there is plenty of room for sadness and struggle in the Bible’s own understanding of the human experience. In fact, about one third of all the Psalms can be categorized as psalms of lament. And while most of these psalms do eventually turn to hope, faith, and praise, not all of them do. Psalm 88 begins and ends with despair, with only the faintest light of hope in the middle, and its place in the inspired word of God greatly challenges the idea that God’s people must never feel sadness of sorrow.
The Psalms expect that life will be difficult and complicated, and they expect that suffering and sadness are a part of the Christian experience. Far from equating maturity with happiness, they show us that some of the most faithful and godly people in history have struggled with the same deep and complex emotions we experience today. And far from encouraging God’s people to hide those emotions as a sign of spiritual weakness, the Psalms encourage them to cry out openly and honestly to the One who upholds them by His great power and goodness even in the midst of the most painful and difficult circumstances of life.
All the best,