In the introduction to his study guide, Psalms: Prayers of the Heart, Eugene Peterson wrote, “People look into mirrors to see how they look; they look into the psalms to find out who they are.”
Sometimes, they also listen to pop music.
That’s the guiding idea behind a collection of essays from some of Think Christian’s best writers: that like the wisdom literature of the Bible—not only Psalms, but also Proverbs and Ecclesiastes—our favorite pop, rock, hip hop, and country songs reflect the wide range of the human experience. These “pop psalms” run the gamut from joy to sorrow, ecstasy to angst. And even if they’re not sung to God, as the biblical songs are, we believe that God hears each one.
This means God hears when Alicia Keys offers a silky ode of devotion like “No One”—a romantic song, to be sure, but one that also recalls the soulful adoration of David’s love for his Lord in Psalm 86. God hears when Bruce Springsteen’s scratchy voice strains on “Badlands” to reach for the saving grace promised in Psalm 126. And God hears when Lizzo, with a freshly broken heart, drops a bit of wisdom known by all the psalmists: “Truth Hurts.”
Those are just three of the twelve songs we discuss in detail in our new ebook from Think Christian, titled “Pop Psalms,” dissecting both their timeless artistry and their biblical resonance. You’ll encounter some artists you might expect—Kendrick Lamar, U2—as well as a few surprises. (Hello, Dolly Parton.) And of course, Lizzo is in a category all her own. There are links to each song in the individual essays.
“We use a mirror when shaving or applying makeup to improve, if we can, the face we present to the world,” wrote Peterson. “With the psalms we bring into awareness an ancient sorrow, release a latent joy. We use the psalms to present ourselves before God as honestly and thoroughly as we are able.”
Hopefully, in light of these essays, your favorite pop hits will help you with that too.
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Josh Larsen is editor of Think Christian and host/producer of the TC podcast. He's also the co-host of Filmspotting and author of Movies Are Prayers. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Letterboxd.