Part 2 of an Interview with George Robertson, Author of Soul Anatomy
In Soul Anatomy: Finding Peace, Hope, and Joy in the Psalms, George Robertson enables readers to find a sympathetic Savior in the Psalms who experienced every human emotion, and he helps men and women use the God-inspired vocabulary for expressing every feeling to the Father. Soul Anatomy helps men and women respond to the love of God in all the ways the psalmists do: spiritually, vocationally, physically, and volitionally. Readers will discover the heart of Jesus through the prayers of Jesus, the high priest who can sympathize with us and learn to pray their troubles using God’s own words.
“As you read the Psalms from beginning to end, you will find a God-authored script by which to express every category of human experience,” Robertson shares. “The famous theologian, John Calvin, referred to the Psalter as ‘an anatomy of all parts of the soul.’ The Bible’s inspired hymnbook guides the believer through the highest summits and lowest troughs of life and invites the not-yet believer to a Redeemer who ultimately experienced all of the emotions of these prayers in his incarnation.”
Part 2 of an Interview with George Robertson, Author of Soul Anatomy
Q: You write that the psalms are ultimately the prayers of Jesus. Can you explain why this is true?
At the most basic level, I believe that all of scripture is God’s Word. While the various books were written by human authors, they were ultimately all inspired by the Holy Spirit. I also believe that God uses saints in the Old Testament to point us to Jesus. So, for instance, as we see David crying out in lament, it points us to Jesus, who prayed his own prayer of lament in Matthew 26 in the Garden of Gethsemane. And as we see David rejoicing in the joy of God’s presence (Psalm 16:11), we hear Christ praying in anticipation of his resurrection. One of the implications of believing that God became man in the person of Jesus is that Jesus experienced everything we experience in this life. So, as we read the psalms, we hear Jesus saying to us, “I understand.”
Men such as Andrew Bonar, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Charles Spurgeon, and others couldn’t help but hear the voice of Christ as they read the prayers of the Psalms. The Holy Spirit has led his people throughout history to this conclusion. And finally, when you hear Jesus cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in Matthew 27:46, he doesn’t say, “As it is written in Psalm 22:1…” he says it as his own words.
As you read the Psalms from beginning to end, you will find a God-authored script by which the full gamut of human experience can be expressed and was experienced and expressed by Christ himself.
Q: All Christians can benefit from a deeper study of Psalms, but who did you specifically write this book for?
I wrote Soul Anatomy for those who struggle with anxiety and depression and for those who want to learn how to process their emotions in a redemptive way—which is to say, everyone. By leading readers to Jesus through the Psalms (as they were intended to do), I also wanted to give my fellow strugglers an antidote to the shame that frequently accompanies anxiety and depression. If the Psalms represent the emotional battles Jesus fought in taking up our flesh, then we should not feel ashamed when we experience the same conflicts he did.
Q: Can you share a little bit about your own struggles with anxiety and depression?
I first experienced a panic attack when I was in the third grade. For the next three years I spiraled until I was hospitalized with clinical depression in the middle of the school year. I was paralyzed with fear and intrusive thoughts.
My parents sought answers from physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists. I was tested for everything from allergies to brain tumors. Educators made allowances for me, my friends tried to “cheer me up,” adults spent time listening to me. The Christians leading the school I transferred to laid hands on me for healing and constantly urged me to “cry out to Jesus.” In my hospitalization, a doctor tried a new anti-anxiety drug with me, and I had a terrifying reaction. Through that horrifying experience I cried out to Jesus to save me as I had been urged to do, and he did. The next day, I asked to go home.
I still have bouts of anxiety and occasional depression, but I have never again suffered hopelessly. A major component of my hope is the ability to pray, “Jesus, you know exactly how I feel, so please help me.”
Q: In the chapter “Deliverance from Depression,” you share that some depression may need to be treated physically, but all depression needs to be treated spiritually. What are some steps to spiritually treating depression?
Psalm 6 gives us a helpful start just by following the progression of the psalm itself. We’re reminded of the attributes of God, which we must hold onto as our ultimate hope when we are depressed. While we may not be healed immediately or conclusively, we must receive the comfort God gives us in the midst of our depression.
Practically, when we are depressed, we can be tempted to isolate ourselves from others. This is understandable, as we can wrongly believe depression is a shameful thing or we may not want to feel like a burden on others. However, God gives us other Christians for such times. I have also witnessed multiple times throughout my ministry people who realized that as they engaged in corporate worship week after week, God slowly convinced them of his love and healed them of their depression, or at least brought them through the darkest parts.
Q: Why do you think so many Christians are afraid of embracing their emotions?
I think one reason may be that Christians have tended to “overcorrect” in response to emotions. What I mean is that we either seek to suppress our emotions because expressing them is seen as weak or shameful, or we seek to express our emotions at all costs and see them as the arbiter of truth. Interestingly, in both cases, we are being controlled by our emotions. We need to learn to acknowledge our emotions as legitimate experiences as people made in the image of God but also respond to them in such a way that we apply the gospel to them.
As you read the psalms, you notice a pattern in most of the psalms of lament. The psalmist begins by crying out to God in distress. He describes his situation. He expresses how he feels about it. And he asks for God’s help. By the end of the psalm, the psalmist is usually meditating on the attributes of God and praising God for them. I often tell the people I pastor that there is not a problem in your life that would not be solved or put in its proper perspective, if you really believed that God loves you.
Q: Is Soul Anatomy a personal study or would you recommend going through it with others?
I have tried to make this a dynamic resource for personal use or small group settings. At the end of each chapter there is a section called questions for reflection/discussion, which would be useful for a group discussing and processing each chapter. It is often helpful to walk with other believers for learning, encouragement, and accountability. Because the Psalms help us become more skilled at understanding and applying the gospel to our own hearts, we should find that we become more empathetic and attentive listeners to others who let us in to their own struggles.
I have also included a section at the end of each chapter titled, “prayer.” Because the Psalms are prayers, as we read and process, we should grow in our own prayer lives. Each prayer section seeks to guide individuals to pray as the psalmist does. As readers follow this guide, they may find that they are praying in ways they have not been accustomed to praying in the past. At the very least, I hope readers learn to walk with God more intimately as a result of reading this book.
Soul Anatomy: Finding Peace, Hope, and Joy in the Psalms by George Robertson October 5, 2020 / Retail Price: $17.99 Print ISBN 978-1-645070-38-2 Religion/Christian Living/Spiritual Growth
Click here for a preview, including the table of contents, introduction, and first chapter.
About the author
George Robertson, PhD, is the senior pastor at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN, and a council member for The Gospel Coalition. He previously served as a lecturer and adjunct professor at Covenant Theological Seminary.
Robertson is the author of Soul Anatomy: Finding Peace, Hope, and Joy in the Psalms. He has devoted much attention to the study and application of the Psalms throughout his career, preaching from them over 150 times and contributing the notes for Psalms 1-100 in the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible. The book relays both the depths of his personal experience with depression and anxiety as well as daily pastoral care over the past 25 years.
He is married to Jackie, and they have four children.