I have often said, “I am glad there is a little heresy in the Psalms.” Think about it, the psalms are unique in Scripture because they are a place where God gives us words to speak back to him in the midst of the full breadth of human experience. God allows us to put into words their honest doubts about whether he will be true to his promises when our experience seems to contradict who he says he is. For example:
- God is felt to be hiding from us in our troubles (Ps 10:1).
- God is felt to be forgetful or uninterested in our suffering (Ps 13:1; 44:24).
- God is felt to have forsaken those who cry out to him (Ps 22:1–2).
- God is felt to be asleep and therefore unaware (Ps 44:23).
- God is felt to have abandoned his people forever (Ps 74:1).
- God is felt to have aggressively “spiked” an innocent person in anger (Ps 102:10).
We do not have to choose between honesty and reverence because of psalms like these. God is not agreeing that our experience is objectively true, but he is demonstrating his willingness to sometimes put compassion before instruction. His compassion can strengthen his children enough to be able to eventually hear, embrace, and be comforted by the truth. But we are not coming to God against his permission when we wrestle with thoughts like those in the psalms above.
When I’ve taught on these psalms in the past, I’ve invited the audience to imagine a parent who gives their pre-teen a sealed letter, asks their son or daughter to keep in their room, and only open the letter when they are seething mad in their room, believing their parent to be a complete idiot. That letter would seek to put into words the experience of the teen and have value because it was written before the conflict emerged. The letter would show both the foresight (wisdom) and care of the parent.
That is what these “heretical psalms” do. They show us the wisdom of God (his ability to anticipate the disorientation of hardship we would face in a fallen world) and the love of God (that he invites us to bring these honest, even if untrue, feelings to him).
My boys are getting old enough, that I realized I needed to write them a letter like the one I’ve frequently described. Here is my attempt. I hope the fact that I’ve written and read them many letters before this one is needed aids their ability to receive this one.
I love you. You’re upset with me. That grieves me. I couldn’t predict the details, but this moment was inevitable. It happens to the best of sons (that’s you) in the best of families (it’s okay if you doubt whether that’s us).
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. It would be easier to just vent in your mind about how unfair or unreasonable you think I’ve been. It is a mark of your maturity that you (a) remembered this letter and (b) were willing to read it.
You have always been mature for your age. That is probably not what you just heard me say, but it’s true. Nothing about whatever disagreement we just had changes that. Nothing changes that I love you. Nothing changes that I am and always will be proud to be your father.
I have seen your genuine care for others, your hard work to be a good student, how naturally you are a good friend, that you truly are “the best big brother ever,” and I trust the trajectory of where God is taking your life.
You are getting older, having more ideas of your own, and part of that involves questioning what you’ve been taught to see if you really believe it’s true and the values we hold as a family to decide if you really want to make them your own. That’s natural for you as a teenager and hard for me as a father.
There’s a good chance we’ll have more disagreements in the coming months about you wanting more freedom and me wanting to be able to give more direction. Chances are we’ll wrestle with that tension for a while.
The most important thing to me in the midst of all of it is that you not close off to me or Mama. We will find a way to resolve whatever disagreement that led you to read this letter as long as our trust in each other is not broken.
When you’re ready I’d love for you to come back downstairs and for us to get to talk. Bring the letter. I’ll listen. You can hold me to my written word. A good relationship is one where “the subject (whatever we disagreed about) is not more important than the relationship” and “both people genuinely want to understand the other (even when what is thought/felt by the other is painful).”
That is the kind of relationship I want. When you’re ready, I would love the opportunity to demonstrate that is what we still have. No moment of frustration is larger than my love for you.