There were many things in seminary I was taught but struggled to understand—the Psalms are one of them. The Psalms can be a strange and disorienting land.
Some, like Psalm 61, encourage faith and speak directly to the cry of our hearts.
Others are filled with anger and violent imagery.
Walter Brueggemann teaches that the Psalms help balance the gifts of life while challenging us to talk about what we’d rather ignore—both in our personal lives and in our culture.
Brueggemann organizes the Psalms into three categories: Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation. This is an important foundation for reading the Psalms.
On the outset of Psalm 61, it appears as though David is running for his life and is living in fear. You can hear the fear and trembling in his voice. But why?
David was a man after God’s own heart, however in this particular moment he is far from it. Hidden beneath his prayer for refuge and strength lies a deep failure of David’s leadership and character.
Many scholars believe Psalm 61 was written while David ran from his son Absalom, who has come after his father for failing to act, let alone seek justice, for the rape of Tamar.
As king, David was given political and spiritual authority to oversee righteousness and justice in Israel. Yet the cry of Tamar goes unheard. David has failed in his leadership as King. He has failed in to uphold God’s call for justice. He has failed family.
Does David realize the harm of he’s done? Where is there sincerity in his prayer? Has David come to terms with the reality of his silence? Perhaps we will never truly know, but a deeper knowledge of the events surrounding David’s prayer lends itself to disorientation rather than reorientation.
On one level David recognizes his deep need for God as his refuge and strength, and on another level, David is wrong about his own character.
David fails to understand the need to change what is broken within and seek forgiveness from those denied justice. For as much as this is shocking to think of David in this light, it is reassuring to know that all of us, even faithful leaders, overlook who we really are.
The Psalms invite us to be honest and real about our lives. They encourage us to celebrate the joys and gifts in our lives, as well as talk about things we would like to ignore.
The truth often forgotten is that God can handle the hurts, habits, and hang ups the world tells us we should hide. God knows us inside and out, and if we want to know God inside and out then we must come before God with all that we are and all that we have.
Rev. Andrew Wolfe is an Associate Pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. He and the rest of the congregation would love to have you visit for church if you are ever in the area.
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