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“How good it is to sing praises to our God” (Psalm 147:1).
There are days when it feels like we have become a nation of grumblers whose every grievance demands our most urgent attention. Not that all injustices rank the same. The persecuted church worldwide, and the 100,000 unborn children who are yearly eliminated on Canadian soil barely register on anyone’s radar. It seems to me that identity groups are vying for the top spot on a pyramid of grievances.
Injustices must be addressed. But there are times when I wonder whether, as a society, we will find a way to manage this ever-mutating pyramid.
By all objective standards, we are the richest and most privileged generation ever to grace this planet. The most ostentatious medieval kings could not, even in their wildest dreams, have imagined the kind of luxury and ease we take so much for granted. Western civilization has produced the most advanced, humane, tolerant, and compassionate culture that has ever seen the light of day, and yet we moan and groan like it’s 1929.
In preparation for a course I’m teaching this semester, I’m reading through the book of Psalms. What a contrast! Praise and joy percolate throughout. Which is odd because, by our standards, ancient Israelites led pathetic lives. No electricity or indoor plumbing. Brutal rulers. The constant threat of invasion. No hospitals, antibiotics, or anesthetics. And if you were lucky, a life expectancy that might stretch to 45.
What was there to rejoice about? Not much. And yet, ancient Israelites praised God and rejoiced in him. The psalms of praise and thanksgiving outnumber any other type of psalms found in the Psalter. Even in those texts where the psalmist pours out his heart in grief, praise ultimately peeks through (Psalm 88 being the only exception). The book of Psalms resolutely moves toward unbridled praise, culminating in a crescendo of joyful worship in Psalms 145 to 150.
Why praise God? Because God is alive, all-powerful, good, and infinitely cares for each one of us. To praise is to proclaim that chaos and meaninglessness do not define ultimate reality. Praise is the lung of the soul. When I choose to allow my grievances to rule my mind and my heart, my soul shrinks. The psalms affirm the legitimacy of lament. But lament is never to be the worshipper’s permanent residence. At some point, we need to move on and find renewed hope in the
When lament occupies all the space, it constricts our ability to imagine an alternative future. When we praise, our soul expands, our heart fills with compassion, and our mind clears up. Circumstances that seemed hopeless yesterday begin to look hopeful. To praise is to believe that God is alive and has the power to intervene in our lives.
As we look toward Easter, the promise of the resurrection and the resolution of all injustices, and as we anticipate the eruption of a new world filled by myriads of men and women made whole and redeemed, we have every reason to embrace praise as the ruling impulse of our hearts and minds.
“The poor will eat and be satisfied. All who seek the LORD will praise him. Their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy” (Psalm 22:26 NLT).
“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him” (Psalm 28:7).
Pierre Gilbert is Associate Professor of Bible and Theology at MB Seminary and Canadian Mennonite University.
This article was first published in the MB Herald on April 1, 2018.