Psalm 44

Read Psalm 44

Psalm 44 is one of the few psalms that doesn’t end on a particularly hopeful "note," at least not exactly.


A Musical Interlude

In music theory, there are two broad categories of chords: major and minor. Regardless of how ignorant you think you are when it comes to music theory, most people are generally able to understand the distinction intuitively. Major chords (and/or keys) are happy, bright and (in general) induce feelings of peace and contentment; while minor chords (and/or keys) are sad, somber and (in general) induce feelings of despair and dread. If we compare the various moods of the psalms to musical chords, we might conclude a few things. There are lots of psalms that have “minor chords” as their refrain. There are lots of psalms that may even be composed of mostly minor chords. But it is rather rare to find a psalm that ends on a minor chord. Generally speaking, most psalms almost always end on a major chord. This makes sense of course. The Christian story, the Christian hope, the Christian song does ultimately end with a rather triumphant major chord and all the associated “feels” mentioned above: i.e. – joy, peace, contentment, etc. Take, for example, the two psalms immediately preceding Psalm 44. In Psalm 42, the psalmist spends 10 verses playing minor chords: crying out to God, arguing with himself about why he is so “downcast.” He struggles to believe that God has his back, he laments (what he perceives to be) the absence of God in his life. And yet, in literally the very last line of the psalm, it ends with a rather hopeful major chord: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” The following Psalm 43, while quite a bit shorter, is very similar: alternating between major and minor chords up to the very last verse, but ends with the same (major chord) declaration: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”


Rare, Raw and Real

And then we come to Psalm 44. It actually starts off in a major key as the psalmist remembers the faithfulness of God in days past. But, this psalm is rare in what it does next. In the midst of remembering what God has done in the past, rather than stirring hope and confidence, the psalmist seems to deteriorate into more despair. For all his intellectual certainty in what God has done—in who God has made Himself known to be—the psalmist’s heart simply lacks the necessary resources to reassure himself. In some of the most raw and honest verses in all of the psalter, the psalmist takes an almost accusatory tone before the Lord, as he questions God, doubts God, and is confused by God. And then, as the psalm ends, there is no major chord crescendo, there is no hopeful declaration. There is a minor chord plea, a desperate cry for help. The Message translation probably communicates the tone of the psalmist best:


“Get up, God! Are you going to sleep all day?

    Wake up! Don’t you care what happens to us?

Why do you bury your face in the pillow?

    Why pretend things are just fine with us?

And here we are—flat on our faces in the dirt,

    held down with a boot on our necks.

Get up and come to our rescue.

    If you love us so much, Help us!”


And then… inexplicably, the psalm simply ends.


Getting Honest

I recently attended a songwriting workshop where the question was raised as to whether or not I should write songs that follow the pattern of Psalm 44. That is, songs that question God, or doubt Him or end with a “minor chord” cry for rescue, rather than a “major chord” proclamation of hope. I don’t know if I should write songs like that or not-- maybe I should, maybe I shouldn't (a discussion to be had elsewhere I suppose). But I do know this: if we get honest with ourselves, we could admit, that from time to time, Psalm 44 is our experience of God- like it or not. That our real-life experience of God does not always follow the agreeable pattern of doubt then faith, despair then hope. Sometimes, we’re simply left waiting. Sometimes, our experience of life-with-God is dissonant, uncomfortable and unsure (like a minor chord). Here’s the thing though: God doesn’t give up on us the moment we doubt, or voice our confusion, or even raise a complaint against Him. We worship a God, who in Christ Jesus, bore our insults, our scorn, our spit, and our violence as He was crucified. Do we really believe He can’t handle our doubts and confusion? Or even our frustration? 


Dear reader, if today you find yourself in the middle of a “minor key” season (like Psalm 44) where, in spite of all your intellectual certainty in who God is and what He has done, your heart simply lacks the necessary resources to reassure yourself, hopefully you find some comfort in knowing that God’s people have, from time to time, had the same experience (even the most faithful of us, see Psalm 44:17, 18). Moreover, your experience of God does not change who God actually is or diminish His goodness or His love for you in any way. Period. 



There is a profound mystery here, don’t miss it. Scripture says that we somehow “share in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:13). Was not the greatest of all Christ’s sufferings heard in His cry from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 


-- Chaz Holsomback