Hear, O Lord

David Firth is Director of Extension Studies at St John's College Nottingham, and if this book is a sample of his scholarship and clarity of communication, the Cliff students are being well served! Reading this book alongside the particular psalms which David unpacks in detail has given context and meaning for me to some of the perplexing psalms which have always jarred as I have read them over the years - what David refers to as ‘the paradox where pain and praise intercept.’

The author identifies three general categories of psalm: psalms of the ordered world, in which a fundamental pattern is identified; psalms of the disordered world, often referred to as psalms of complaint, where there is an apparent contradiction between the promises of God and the reality of life and where the cause of the disorder is variously attributed to the self, the enemy or to God; and psalms of the re-ordered world where the disorder is not denied, but where deliverance, healing and forgiveness are seen at least as possibilities even if not yet a reality.

Firth shows that, although God’s reign is not always in evidence, it is nevertheless the central truth which enables the psalmists to express praises even when troubles overwhelm: ‘Through these psalms we see continual witness to the fact that even when God appears as the problem, God is also the solution’; ‘There are no promises of an easy life, just a guaranteed future’. The author separates the three categories of ordered, disordered ad reordered world into personal and community responses to events, offering us a timely reminder that faith is not a purely individual matter.

One of the most helpful sections for me was part of Chapter 3 in which Psalm 88’s unrelenting tirade against God’s rejection and abandonment is identified as real prayer and a demonstration of faith: ‘Real prayer opens us up to God so that we bring to him the raw and radical situation in which we find ourselves’; ‘…faith is that which continues to hold on to God and insistently cry out that he should act’.

Perhaps a weakness in the book is the limited amount of application to today, although readers are probably well able to apply to themselves the many gems of truth and insight to be unearthed in this stimulating and enlightening book.