9 Apr 2008

Psalms: Singing the Blues … Lessons from a Rock Star

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bobby's World, Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Ministry, Mission, Prayer, Preaching, Psalms, Spiritual Disciplines, Worship

Sometime in 2007 I accepted an invitation to do a seminar on the Psalms for a mid-Atlantic state. Psalms has always been among a handful of “favorite” books of mine in the Bible. I have read them and prayed them and studied them … not always in that order. I was caught by the grittiness of the Psalms. But more often than not, I wasn’t quite brave enough to embrace their white-hot passion. Still they appealed to me.

It is ironic that one of the planned talks received the title “Night: Finding God in the Darkness.” I have had a few tough moments in my life but for the most part I have had a rather “easy” life comparatively speaking. But I have completely new “insight” into the Psalms that I never had before.

When hell decided to nuke that which was by far the most important thing in my life I suddenly experienced something I had never experienced before (that is when my daughters and I were shredded through divorce). Suddenly I understand why nearly half of the “Book of Praises” is really laments! If God is King then why all the bs in the world and in our lives?? Do we really grasp what it means to “praise Yahweh?”

Some feel that to acknowledge pain and suffering is actually to deny faith. Brueggemann confesses: “I think that serious religious use of the lament psalms has been minimal because we have believed that faith does not mean to acknowledge and embrace negativity. We have thought that acknowledgment of negativity was somehow an act of unfaith …” But life is full of disequilibrium and incoherence.

Sometimes insight can come from the most unlikely of places. I have been a fan of U2 since 1983. They used to just have great music, now I know they have substance. Bono, lead singer of the band, wrote an Introduction to the book of Psalms. For him David is the “Elvis of the Bible.” After being jaded by both “religion” and life Bono makes this statement about the Psalms,,

Abandonment and displacement are the stuff of my favourite psalms. The Psalter may be a font of gospel music, but for me it’s despair that the psalmist really reveals and the nature of his special relationship with God. Honesty, even to the point of anger. “How long, Lord? Wilt thou hide thyself forever?” (Psalm 89), or “Answer me when I call” (Psalm 5).

Bono confesses that it was the Psalms that helped save his faith in God. Not because of content but through experiencing them..

Words and music did for me what solid, even rigorous, religious argument could never do — they introduced me to God, not belief in God, more an experiential sense of GOD. Over art, literature, girls, my mates, the way in to my spirit was a combination of words and music. As a result, the Book of Psalms always felt open to me and led me to the poetry of Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, the book of John…My religion could not be fiction, but it had to transcend facts. It could be mystical, but not mythical.

The Psalms are the Blues. Hear the Blues from Psalm 80

Stir up your might, and come to save us!
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry
with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies
laugh among themselves. (80. 2b-6)

Do you hear it?
Can you feel it?
I have lived it!

They give God’s people the language to express rage, frustration and dismay over the vandalism of shalom experienced in our lives, our churches, and our families. The Psalms do what “solid, even rigorous, religious argument could never do — they introduced me to God.” Perhaps this is the greatest treasure of all from the Psalms. We are not introduced to more doctrine but to God himself. Through the Psalms we experience truth that exceeds logic! The Psalms are one of the great treasures of the Hebrew Bible.

Read more of Bono here

Just some ramblings today …
Bobby Valentine

8 Responses to “Psalms: Singing the Blues … Lessons from a Rock Star”

  1. johnmarkhicks Says:

    Ultimately, laments can only be prayed, sung and understood through empathetic experience. Those standing outside of the circle of empathy can only echo the laments sympathetically but those within the circle can speak them out of their own experience. I am sorry, my brother, that you entered that circle last December. Now you live with the lamenters of the Psalter in a way you have not previously. They offer the comfort of fellow-sufferers and–just as important–fellow-believers.

  2. Matt Says:


    Did you know George Pendergrass (one of the originals in Acappella) sings some parts of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on the U2 album “Rattle and Hum”?

  3. WendyC Says:

    oh Bobby, your post made me cry – and that’s a good thing. Thanks for being so real and sharing with us the richness and rawness of your journey. Your blog is a wonderful ministry. You have no idea how you have blessed me today.

  4. kingdomseeking Says:


    I am sorry you have been thrusted into that circle of lamenters. Thank you for living openly about it. Living openly about it may not help you that much but IT WILL help the many who will unforunately join the group of suffering. Someone else who has commented on this post was courageous enough to live openly about his own suffering and that openess help me in my own journey of suffering at a time when my faith in God was imploding.

    I will keep praying for you!


  5. Zack Says:

    Bobby, I read several of your posts just now. Great stuff! Have you read The Bible Jesus read by Phillip Yancey? He says a lot of things like that there too about the Psalms. The Psalms really help us be real and not fake with God. Thank you for writing these things. God bless!

  6. Gardner Hall Says:

    I’m one of those who has not yet lost a close family member. My suffering has come primarily through sharing the anguish of others. On one hand I don’t want to be thrust as Rex says into “the circle of lamenters.” On the other hand, I know that those on the inside often have a keener awareness of the emptiness of the world.

  7. Darin L. Hamm Says:

    I like that. Thanks.

  8. Latayne Says:

    That was a very insightful blog about the psalms. For the last couple of years I’ve been reading the Psalms and Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, which anthologizes what people for centuries have been saying about them. Spurgeon’s own grief comes through his writing, but he doesn’t let it control his choice of the comments of others.

    My own experience with Mormonism brought me to the point that David and others reached — a kind of hanging onto God by the fingernails, unwilling to give Him up yet baffled by His actions. . .

    Latayne C Scott

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