WITH the "Prayers of the Individual" we enter into the very core of the Hebrew hymnal. Through those psalms the divine-human encounter receives in the intimate sanctuary of the soul its farthest-reaching expression. The Psalter has survived change of time, displacement of culture, and betrayal of translation for one primordial reason: it includes many "Personal Supplications" with which, age after age, lonely sufferers have been able to identify their own unspoken sorrow. Pain may unite and create a bond of fellowship--after the crisis is ended. But a man in misuery is alone. We suffer only as individuals. The community is never wholly absent from the psalms of longing and misery, but their poets did not write in the name of a worshiping "church." Like Jacob who wrestled in the night at the ford of the torrent Jabbok, they were "left alone." Their suffering, whatever its direct cause and its nature, grew even deeper from the vacuum of isolation. For they felt abandoned, not only by men, but also by God himself. In their spiritual loneliness they drank the cup of bitterness to its last dregs. Thus, the accent of their suffering rings true to the worst ever endured by man, and their poems, individualized as they may be, have become typical of universal grief.
Moreover, the psalmists never stopped at a mere exteriorization of subjective pain. Their suffering was neither sterile nor useless. They invariably learned from it. Even Homer, long before them, had discovered that ". . . he who much has suffered, much will know." But what the psalmists learned through the tortures they endured was infinitely more than courage and nobility of character.