Psalms and Psychology

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Final Paper: The Psalms and Psychology
A main function of the Psalter in our modern church is to show the raw emotion that the writers’ prayers to God embody. Because of the depths of emotion that are present in the Psalms, they help Christians to see the relational aspect of the faith in a different way. In the Psalter, Christians see that God wants us to share our whole being with him; the Psalms show Christians that they can express the diversity of emotions that humans have with God. The study of psychology can be useful in giving further insight to the authors’ minds and how the human element of the authorship effects the Psalter. Looking at the Davidic Psalms, one sees a variety of the emotions and genres; The field of psychology can be used to give deeper insight into the nature of the Psalms when looking at the range of emotion present there. Therefore, a psychological analysis of the Davidic Psalms gives a full picture of the different emotions and genres and their nature as it relates to the Psalter.

In looking at the Psalms, the importance of language is extremely prevalent. The study of psycholinguistics, the psychology of our language as it interacts with the human mind, is particularly interesting when it comes to the Psalter because the Psalms involve an individual pouring out their heart to God (Sternberg 361). The Davidic Psalms manifest themselves as personal prayers and corporate hymns; They have a significant personal human element, but they are also part of the Christian cannon, which is considered to be the Word of God. Because of this dichotomy, should the language of the Psalms be attributed to a human emotional response to earthly situations that they direct towards God, or should the language be understood as God giving the authors of the Psalms the words to write down to instruct believers how to present their emotions to God? The answer to this quandary depends on the individuals interpretation of “divine inspiration”, but this debate is beyond the scope of this paper. Because psychology and the study of psycholinguistics cannot hope to understand the mind of God, this paper will focus on the use of language as understood from the perspective of the language being attributed as originating from the mind of the human author and being directed towards God.

Another aspect to keep in mind when looking at the language of the Psalms is to recognize the ever changing aspect of language. Psycholinguistics focuses on the fact that nature of language is dynamic (Sternberg 363). Language evolves as new words are created, words take on new meanings, and new ways of presenting language are created. We now have texting, email, and blogs that radically change how language is used. “IDK” and “LOL” are parts of language that were created by the evolution of how language is communicated. Also, words and phrases like “spam” and “shut up” have taken new meanings over the years (369). “Spam” was originally a strange meat in a can, but now it refers to a folder for unwanted emails. In the same way, “shut up” originally meant to stop talking, but now it maintains that meaning while also having the other meaning of an exclamation of shock or surprise.

Also, language shifts not just in the denotation of a word but also in its connotation. Words can have the same definition, but the semantic meaning that each one holds can be severely different (Sternberg 374). An example of this is the difference between famous and notorious. Notorious comes from the same root as notable, which means worthy of being known for a particular trait, but notorious has come to have the connotation of being unfavorable known, while famous does not have that connotation ("Notorious"). Another example is the difference between “smell” and “odor”. They both refer to the stimulation of our olfactory sense, but the word “odor” is more likely to be used when it is referring to something negative. This fact must be keep in mind when reading...
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