We don’t have to be musicians to know the power of music. We carry music with us through all the places of our lives and in all the places in our hearts. And in especially potent moments, the music may well do the carrying.
David, a man after God’s own heart, was a soldier, a shepherd, a king, a poet. But he was also a songwriter and a musician, a musician with an exceptional and unprecedented relationship with God. We learn from David that God’s love for his broken people is infinite. David has remarkable faith, but also remarkable failings. With raw language and unbridled intensity, David writes passionate songs about grief, despair, anger, confession, and love.
We commonly think we have to approach our relationship with God as piously as possible. We should be reverent, respectful, and probably even generally banal. But I don’t believe God is interested in passive followers. David shows us, through the artistry of words, and the power of music, that God values honesty when we communicate with him, the honesty of a people committed to following him but who stumble all along the way.
This honesty of language is a compelling place for us to live our musical lives. David praises God for the wonders of creation, and for the blessings he has been given. He marvels in fear at the strength of his enemies and wishes them a violent end. He is in despair during the darkness in his life and acknowledges God’s presence even then. And he does this in song. I don’t believe that God’s good gift of music has a greater purpose than for us as fallible humans to express all the complexities (and simplicities) of our relationship to our divine Creator, whether it is praise or confession, sorrow or anger.
David writes of grief: but surely my sister’s divorce doesn’t have anything to do with the poetic ramblings of an ancient Israelite king. David writes of his walk through the valley of the shadow of death: but surely David wasn’t writing about the softball-sized tumor in my good friend’s brain, or the crackpot on social media bent on destroying my reputation and my career. Surely David’s songs were referencing only his specific situation, and not the immense suffering caused by world leaders so intentionally rejecting mercy and compassion and so emphatically institutionalizing hatred and fear.
How long Lord? How long Lord? How long Lord? is all I can think of to sing.
I find immense comfort in knowing that David, one of God’s most beloved (and an ancestor of Christ’s) gives us songs to sing for every point in our lives. It’s easy for us to convince ourselves that our world is vastly different from the one in which David wrote his music. Though some centuries have passed since David walked this earth, be certain that he knows just how it feels to have the world unravel before our eyes, and that he is our brother in pain, and in joy, and in every other piece of humanness that knocks about within our fallen selves.
David’s Psalms give us this incalculable gift: we are able not only to speak (or sing, or scream, or cry) bluntly and honestly with God, but we are given actual words to use. And I don’t think language this powerful, pain this deep, or joy this great, can really be expressed with mere written or spoken word.
I believe it was meant to be sung.