I tend to think of the Psalms in the broad category of “calling upon God”–they are situated responses to God’s own call toward us in creation and redemption. In dialogue believers call upon the creator and redeemer God in profession, prayer and praise; they respond to God’s divine acts in the world in confession, lament and thanksgiving depending on the circumstances of their lives.
To call upon God is the substance of our faith–it is to live in dependence upon him from the moment we are called into his people untill the fulfillment of God’s eschatological goal. Between our baptism and our death, focused communally in the Lord’s Supper and experienced in our own mediations, we call upon God. Our faith expresses itself through call–profession, lament and praise. We live our life worthy of our God’s calling by calling upon the Lord in all aspects of our human existence. It is the call that characterizes our dependent existence and surrender to the will of God.
The theological function of the Psalter, it seems to me, is the sanctification of the believer. Through the Psalms we encounter the transforming presence of God within community–both the historic past as well as the present community. We are shaped by God’s presence in community with his people. In the Psalms we hear the rhythyms of profession, lament and praise that characterize faith, connect us with the people of God, and shape us into God’s likeness. We learn the life of faith and the rhythym of life in relation with God.
I have uploaded several helps to my resource pages concerning the Psalms. One is a handout at the General Materials page that I have used in many settings. It classifies the Psalms at two levels. It categorizes Psalms into (1) orientation [profession, creation, confidence], (2) disorientation [lament, imprecation, penitential], and (3) new orientation [praise, thanksgiving]. This way of looking at the Psalms was popularized by Brueggeman. My handout classifies each Psalm into one of these categories. But it also identifies the genre of each Psalm–individual lament, communal thanksgiving, imprecation, Zion, creation, confidence, etc. I have found this useful and helpful in a general approach to the Psalms. It is important to read a Psalm in the context of its general orientation and also as the type (genre) of literature it is–one does not read a lament the same way one reads a thanksgiving.
I have also added to the handout how I think the recognitition of orientation, disorientation and new orientation is reflected in worshipping assemblies. The public worship of the church as the assembled people of God should, in the rhythym of life, reflect the various “moods” we find in the Psalms. Assembly is not simply about confidence and thanksgiving, but it is also, at times, about lament. Indeed, the worship of Israel as reflected in the Psalms is almost half disorientation. Assembly becomes a place where Israel can lament, but the Christian assembly finds little place for that and few songs to carry the load in our assemblies. Singing the Psalms–all of the Psalms–would restore some healthy expressions of disorientation to our assemblies. Lacking corporate expressions of disorientation tends to diminish and even subvert the spiritual vitality of lament in the lives of believers. With no models of disorientation at the corporate level, believers are left to wonder whether their experience of disorientation can be authentic spirituality. That was my experience–and my doubt–until I read the Psalms seriously as a disoriented believer. Now, to me, at least at the present, is the most authentic of spiritual expressions; it is real.
Speaking of disorientation, I have also uploaded to my Academic page an article I wrote for Dr. Clyde Woods of Freed-Hardeman University that was published in his festschrift. It focuses on the function and use of the imprecatory Psalms. After offering a brief theological frame and introducing the various ways the “curse” Psalms have been understood and applied, I offer a theological analysis of Psalm 7.
At a broader level on the General Materials page, I have uploaded the lecture notes for a sermon seminar presenation at Lipscomb University in 1997 entitled “How to Preach a Curse.” I discuss the present preaching, teaching and application of “curse” texts in Scripture (including the imprecatory Psalms, but also including Revelation and other texts such as 1 Corinthians 16:23).
I hope the materials are helpful to some. Blessings…and more to come.