The Power of the Psalms
Two weeks ago, I listened to 77 psalms in one day. I had this wonderful experience in Utrecht, the Netherlands, where these psalms were performed as part of the annual Festival of Early Music. The remaining 73 psalms had already been sung the day before. Four choirs from Norway, the UK, the USA and the Netherlands performed compositions based on texts from the psalms written by 150 different composers, from the eleventh until the twenty-first century.
I was much impressed by the variety of the music and by the professional performances. Yet there was also a question which came up in my heart: what does the LORD God himself feel about this event? I assume that several singers were believers, who wanted to praise God with all their soul and strength. Yet the setting as a whole was not a religious one, as could be known from the programme notes and the short introductions provided by three well-known Dutch authors. To give just one example: one author read his own paraphrase of Psalm 23, in which he had replaced the name of the LORD by ‘love’ or ‘darling’.
Did the LORD say about this event: ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’ (cf. Isaiah 29:13)? Or did he enjoy it and smile, because so many singers, whether believing or not, used their creational gifts to sing his praises?
The psalms still appeal to many people. More than 11,000 tickets were sold for the twelve concerts in which the psalms were performed and the two lectures which reflected upon them! Evidently, this was because the psalms are so profoundly human. For me, however, it also testifies to the power of the word of God in this very special book of the Bible. Not only God’s people, but also many others called upon the nations to praise God and to thank him for all his gifts: ‘O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is gracious’ (Psalm 106:1). I still do not dare to say what God felt about this impressive day in Utrecht, but I do know that there is hope for the world as long as long as the psalms speak to the hearts.
Gert Kwakkel Professor of Old Testament, Faculté Jean Calvin, Theologische Universiteit Kampen Member of the Executive Committee of the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians