Songs to live by

Illustration by Stuart Miles. Courtesy of
Illustration by Stuart Miles. Courtesy of

I suffer from earworms. It sounds disgusting, but I’ll bet you have the same problem from time to time.

“Earworms” are those catchy little ditties and commercial jingles that get stuck in your mind, playing over and over again in an endless loop. Either you wait for them to go away on their own, or you deliberately stick another song in your head to replace them.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I have a suggestion.

In a 2012 post, I wrote that if the life of Jesus were to be thought of as a movie, the Psalms would be part of its soundtrack. I don’t mean that in a Hollywood sense, as if every character needed his or her own theme song, or every dramatic moment had to be properly orchestrated. Rather, the Psalms give us songs to live by, ways to imagine and sing of the faithfulness of God even on the darkest of days.

As can be seen again and again in the gospel accounts, Jesus quoted the Psalms frequently, even from the cross. This suggests that their worshipful poetry framed how he understood his life and ministry. And as can be seen in Second Corinthians, the same might be said of the apostle Paul.

Having written candidly about how much he suffered for the gospel, having spoken of constantly being “given up to death” (4:11, NRSV) for the sake of Jesus and his church, Paul says this:

But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. (2 Cor 4:13-14, NRSV)

“I believed, and so I spoke”: Paul is quoting Psalm 116:10, a paean of praise to God for divine deliverance from affliction. Here are the opening verses. As you read them, imagine that Paul has these in mind as he thinks of his own life and writes to the Corinthians:

I love the Lord, because he has heard
    my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
    therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
    the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
    I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;

    our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest,
    for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,

    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling.
I walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living.
I kept my faith, even when I said,
    “I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my consternation,
    “Everyone is a liar.”
(Ps 116:1-11, NRSV)

As we’ve seen, Paul was not immune to despair. It’s easy to imagine him crying out to God in the midst of all the difficult and even life-threatening circumstances he faced — and doing so in the language and imagery of the Psalms. God has delivered him in the past, and so he entrusts God with his future: a future infused with resurrection glory.

What will be the soundtrack to our life of faith? It’s hard to beat the Psalms, as earworms go.