The Psalms are Beautiful—But is There be Something Missing?

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Leslie Leyland Fields preaches a message of encouragement and hope over the darkest parts of our stories. Along the way, she shares several Psalms. And yet, she says, something is missing from the Psalms. You can find out what it is in this video.

When I first raised my hand toward the church ceiling, when I raced off to Bible study in those early years, then to a Christian college to know more about the God who had rescued me, I expected to be better than this. I studied the books of the Bible, memorized passages of Scripture. I thought my life would chart an upward path, the years bringing me steadily nearer and nearer to God, who would free me from my sins and insecurities as I found my full identity in him.

But all along the way, as Psalm 119 recounts, I wander. I distrust God and trust myself instead. I protect my wounds. I choose other gods. I still do sometimes. Sometimes I go days without opening God’s Word on my own, without reminding myself of what is true about him, about myself. I swing between worthlessness and pride. The very week I am writing this, I meet my new pastor and, eager to prove my worth, cannily find a way to recite my résumé to him. Afterward, hearing my own words echo in my ears like acid, I wither in shame.

And then there are the daily choices, when I willfully avoid what I know is good and right. In the apostle Paul’s words, “what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15, NIV)

How can God still want me? How can God still want us? We are a mess of rebellions and wounds, a collection of harms to ourselves and harms from others, even from the start.

Adam and Eve, barefoot on a mossy carpet in a perfect garden, had everything they needed and wanted. But they trusted a serpent and chose power over dependence, self-rule over relationship. Every shattered piece of our world and our stories and ourselves comes from that choice. Human beings broke the first covenant, and we still experience—and sometimes exacerbate—the fallout.

The Hebrews struggled as well. Although they had no merit of their own, God chose this small, unremarkable tribe of people as his beloved. But the people mostly didn’t want him. The Psalms engage with this history in a special cluster, Psalms 104–107, that Gordon Wenham calls the “mini-Pentateuch.” (Psalm 106:1-5) These four songs follow the story of God’s people from Creation to the Promised Land. Here’s how its retelling of the Exodus begins:

Praise the Lord! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Who can list the glorious miracles of the Lord? Who can ever praise him enough? There is joy for those who deal justly with others and always do what is right. Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people; come near and rescue me. Let me share in the prosperity of your chosen ones. (Psalm 106:1-5)

As you continue to read this article, can you envision leading a group through a guided journey through the Psalms? Leslie’s book, Nearing a Far God: Praying the Psalms with Our Whole Selves can be used together with her free digital leader’s guide for a life-transforming experience.

Do we hear the Psalm 1 echo? Joy! Prosperity! But the psalmist is unsparing about what followed. One of the richest, proudest nations on earth was brought to its knees by the power of Yahweh on behalf of his beloved. But his just-redeemed people became apathetic. Even in the wilderness, a place of such need, they forgot his loving beneficence. The psalmist writes that they traded their glorious God for a statue of a bull. Their appetites ran wild. They were jealous of Moses and Aaron. They refused to enter the land God prepared for them. And after they did enter the land, some even sacrificed their children to other gods. (Genesis 3:15)

Who can keep God’s covenant and stay on the Godward path? Not even God’s own chosen people, it seems. Not even King David. And definitely not me. We want so many things more than we want God. The Ten Commandments hold up the mirror: We’re after other gods, a pantheon of substitutes we sometimes prefer over our Maker and Father. We want some of our neighbor’s riches and real estate and lavish lifestyle. We want a different spouse. We want success in all we do. And even when we want something good—even the love of a father or mother—when we want it more than we want God, we court trouble, we taste death.

How can we bear the weight of our death-making, our life-taking? How can we even bear our own wounds? We cannot. We run and hide, just as Adam and Eve did after eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Our human story might have ended there—a short story with a tragic ending. But the story goes on through sixty-six books written over fifteen hundred years, each book unspooling a wondrous trail of grace and restoration. Because God never removes his love from us, his everlasting love. He sees the brokenness of our world, and he comes to rescue. He covers our mistakes, forgives our failures and rebellions. He works healing in the places we have experienced deep harm. And he provides a path back to him, to restored relationship.

Even from the beginning, God made a way. The way is Jesus, who would crush the head of the serpent, the instigator of sin. (Psalm 51:1, ESV) Jesus, the only one who would keep God’s covenant perfectly. Who would be crucified to cover our sins and renew a world irretrievably broken. Who would make the path for us back into unhindered intimacy with God.

How do we turn, bend our hearts and our feet to that mercy path again? David himself will show us. After months of turning his back to God, resolute in his passion for Bathsheba, unrepentant for his murder of Uriah, David finds himself held to account. Nathan the prophet confronts him. David’s eyes are opened. He finally sees his crimes through God’s eyes. He recognizes his violations of Bathsheba and her husband. The stubborn dam of his silence toward God breaks. In a flood of anguish, he cries out,

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 32:1-2, NIV)

David knows there is only one place to flee: He throws himself on God’s mercy and his hesed love. Do you hear the plea and then the relief? He confesses his rebellion, asks to be purged and washed, for his heart to be cleansed and purified from the inside out. And it’s given! He experiences God’s forgiveness so deeply and thoroughly that by the end of the psalm, he desires others to experience this restoration as well.

Psalm 32, another confession psalm written by David, opens with words we don’t expect in confession:

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalm 103:11-14, NIV)

Blessed! Happy! Joyful are we when our sins are covered, forgiven! The Hebrew word here is the same as the opening of Psalm 1. Even from our darkest sins, we can be restored. Fully.

I know that’s hard to believe. Maybe every mistake you’ve made has been met with punishment. Maybe you’ve lived in a time and place where mercy and goodness were nowhere to be found. Maybe the weight of the broken world has doubled you over for longer than you can remember.

I understand. I still struggle to fully believe this at times, to believe that we need only speak, only turn, confess—both what we have done and the realities of the wounds we carry— and we are made and found clean, pure, and whole again. But I have experienced this healing again and again. Not because I’ve uttered magic words. Not because a repentant posture instantaneously transforms me from fearful braggart into pure-hearted worshiper. Only the power and mercy of our God can perform such miracles. Listen!

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 32:1-2, NIV)

Can you hear the psalmist’s language straining under the glorious weight of these truths? When we fall and fail, as we will do again and again, we don’t have to punish ourselves. When a broken world and broken people crush our souls, we don’t have to hide or run away from God. We can run to him. We can hide in him. Because he is near, so near. “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close,” David writes. (Psalm 103:11-14, NIV) And there, held in his hands, we find forgiveness. We find sweet reunion with our Father. So we write and speak our sins and all the ways sin has battered us. He listens. He sees and hears us; he lifts our leaden burdens and salves our hurting hearts. And no matter what lies in our past, he restores our joy and leads us purehearted into a future we no longer fear.

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Leslie Leyland Fields

Leslie Leyland Fields is an internationally recognized speaker, teacher, and multi-award winning author of fourteen books including Your Story Matters, Forgiving Our Fathers and MothersSurviving the Island of Grace, and Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas, which won CT’s “Christian Living Book of the Year.” Her books have been translated into nine languages. Her essays have appeared in Christianity TodayBooks and Culture,, The AtlanticBest Essays and many others, earning her a number of Evangelical Press Awards. With three graduate degrees, Leslie has taught extensively at the undergraduate and graduate level. Currently she leads faith and writing retreats around the world and directs the Memoir Masterclass, a large online community for spiritual memoir. Since 2013 she’s been leading The Harvester Island Writers’ Workshop on her family’s island in Alaska (with guests Philip Yancey, Ann Voskamp and many others) as well as Your Story Matters Retreats in Kodiak. She lives on Kodiak Island during the winters, and summers, lives on a wilderness island, Harvester Island, where she works with her family in commercial salmon fishing.

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