I sometimes worry that our hymnbooks – where you have a more or less arbitrary selection of songs, arranged by various doctrinal and liturgical themes – create the impression that worship is a matter of human choice. You choose your Sunday hymns as you might choose a dessert from the menu at a restaurant; and you choose them on the basis of thematic relevance (this week, let's sing about love; this week, let's sing about forgiveness), so that entire dimensions of human experience might never once enter into the singing of a congregation.Myers obviously echoes Calvin in his eloquent defence of psalm-singing. I've not yet seen Psalms for All Seasons, but I hope to do so soon.
But with psalmody as an overarching structure, the congregation is invited to share in experiences that might seem quite remote from their own everyday concerns. That is why we find some of the psalms so offensive: we simply cannot conceive of such experiences, even though they are – manifestly – genuine human possibilities. Instead of criticising such psalms, we need to learn how to sing them.
Our own private griefs are, often enough, quite paltry: but we are invited to join in the gigantic earth-shaking laments of the psalms. Our own criteria for happiness are selfish and small: but we are allowed to share in the magnificent heaven-rending joys of the psalmist. Our own love for God is so feeble that we might even forget all about God for days at a time: but our hearts are torn wide open as we join our voices to the enormous lovesick longing of the psalmist's praise. We are safe, affluent, protected, untroubled by enemies or oppression: but we learn to join our voices to the psalmist's indignant cries for the catastrophic appearance of justice on the earth.
If your congregation sings only Hillsong choruses, then their emotional repertoire will be limited to about two different feelings (God-you-make-me-happy, and God-I'm-infatuated-with-you) – considerably less even than the emotional range of a normal adult person. It is why entire congregations sometimes seem strangely adolescent, or even infantile: they lack a proper emotional range, as well as a suitable adult vocabulary. But in the psalter one finds the entire range of human emotion and experience – a range that is vastly wider than the emotional capacity of any single human life.