I've recently been reading the introduction to John Goldingay's commentary on the Psalms since I'll be preaching from the Psalms in Lent. I've heard a lot of people say how much they love the Psalms because of the range and depth of emotion they find there. They can relate to the Psalmist in a way they can not with other Biblical writers. This part of Scripture sometimes seems more "human" than other parts. I've preached from the Psalms a few times before and always found it difficult. I am much more comfortable in Paul's reasoned arguments than I am in the rhythm and meter of poetry. I confess that this says more about my personality and the way I approach Scripture than it does the Psalms themselves.
Nevertheless, I am in the Psalms again and I am doing my best to let them go to work on me. Goldingay's commentary has offered some insights that I believe might be helpful in that endeavor and I thought it might be worth sharing a few of those here. I hope to honor these gems of wisdom in my preaching over the next several weeks.
"The Psalms make it possible to say things that are otherwise unsayable. In church, they have the capacity to free us to talk about things that we canno4 talk about anywhere else." p. 22-23
Quoting Athanasius's Letter to Marcellinus, "Most of Scripture speaks to us; the Psalms speak for us." p.23
"Historically, I assume, the Psalms came into being as Israelites prayed and praised in these words. They do not document so much their seeking of God as their responding to God's seeking of them, though this response is a spluttering and awkward one." p. 23
After discussing how important historical background is for understanding many parts of the Bible, the prophets as one example, Goldingay says "With the Psalms, the opposite is the case. They do not contain the specific historical references that appear in the Prophets, and it is much more obvious that they stand independent of their original context and are designed for people to use as the vehicles for praise and prayer throughout the story of God's people." p. 25
Along the same lines as the previous quote: "They proceed and work by not making reference to the particularities of their origin, so that such information does not distract people who use them and make them more difficult for worshippers to identify with." p.30
"...psalms came to be accepted in the believing community because it knew they had the ring of truth, even if they were anonymous... Actually, the same is true of the prophecies of people whose names we do know; they came to be accepted because their hearers knew themselves convicted by God when they heard them, not because bearing the name of Jeremiah automatically gave them authority (his story shows this was not so). The community that recognized them then invites us to listen for God speaking to us through them - in the case of the Psalms, to make them our own prayers and praises." p.31
"Doxology and theology are closely related. Doxology requires theology; glorifying God involves making many a statement about God. Conversely, theology finds one of its natural forms in doxology. There is a role to be played by dispassionate analytical theological statements, though I cannot remember what it is, but the natural way to make statements that do justice to God's nature is to make them in the form of praise. Dispassionate analytical statement about God deconstruct." p. 69
Speaking about the use of the Psalms in the New Testament: "They (the NT writers) were not trying to do exegesis. They were using form of expression they found in the Psalms to help them understand themselves and formulate their beliefs. It will be important that their formulations do fit in with the inherent meaning of Scripture as a whole... But they do not need to fit the results of exegesis of a particular passage they quote. The Holy Spirit who inspired Scripture is inspiring the writers to see a new significance in the words that appear in Scripture." p. 77
John Goldingay. Psalms: Vol.1 Psalms 1-41. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Ed., Tremper Longman III (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic), 2006.