Psalm 118

O give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good;
    God’s steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Psalm 118 begins and ends as several praise psalms do: alluding to the formulaic understanding of Yahweh’s steadfast love to the thousandth generation (i.e. forever.)

This affirmation of God’s steadfastness is followed by three stanzas recalling times of trouble, perilous times for the poet, events in which Yahweh intervened and “became my salvation.” Here is a psalm of New Orientation, a prayer of praise and confidence that – no matter what – God is at work in the world and in love with his people.

Notice in this Psalm and throughout the Scriptures the frequent references to the “right hand.” The Lord’s right hand, my right hand, the right hand of fellowship…

There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”

In Middle Eastern culture from ancient times and continuing today, the right hand is the hand of favor. This is both symbolic and practical. Within this cultural practice, the left is the hand that performs all the unclean acts required for the body while the right hand remains clean and unsoiled. Offering someone your left hand would be highly offensive while offering the right hand shows favor and acceptance.

Psalm 118 overflows with familiar phrases that have been quoted and reproduced within the New Testament. For example:

I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.

The psalmist celebrates the happy reversal God has wrought for him. The cornerstone, capstone provides foundation and support for an entire structure and is highly prized. From rejection by others to a chosen and favored role by Yahweh – the poet rejoices in this impossible possibility.

Several New Testament theologians picked up on this cornerstone image as they pondered the meaning of the Christ event. For them, this saying prefigured the experience of Jesus and succinctly described his earthly experience.

Mark used it first, in the context of a parable used to the indict the Pharisees over their rejection of Jesus as Messiah. Matthew and Luke followed Mark closely.

Peter’s sermon in Acts explicitly applied the psalmist’s words to Jesus’ death and resurrection. “This Jesus, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’

Jesus IS the cornerstone.

These passages demonstrate how theologians have always read and re-read, interpreted and re-interpreted the Scriptures. Here is another example:

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
    We bless you from the house of the Lord
Bind the festal procession with branches,
    up to the horns of the altar.

Christians from liturgical traditions recite this first line nearly every Sunday, and most Christians will read about this “festal procession with branches” and recollect Jesus’ Palm Sunday parade. Our persistent Christological interpretation is that Christ is “the one who comes in the name of the LORD.”

Theologian Richard Hays describes this kind of theological interpretation as “reading backwards.”

Hays reflects on ways the First Century theologians re-read their own Scriptures to find within them “figures” or “pre-figures” of Christ. They began with the Christ Event and then read backwards through the Hebrew Scriptures to make sense on this never-before-imagined event.

It’s not so much prediction, Hays notes, as it is a recognition of divine patterns in God’s interaction with humans and our human endeavor to understand this divine interaction. It’s not so much about how the original texts were produced as it is about how the texts are received in any subsequent age.

Our psalmist rejoices in the surprising reversal he has experienced and gives praise to the steadfast God for orchestrating his salvation. In our own day, through the events of our own lives, we too can recognize God’s persistent pattern of turning expectations on their heads and surprising us with grace and new life.

And as 21st century theologians, we rejoice in the quintessential surprise of resurrection. Disaster, despair and death may be our human pattern, but the Divine Pattern displayed by death’s reversal in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a pattern that will never cease to amaze us.


Richard Hays. Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco: Baylor University Press) 2014.

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

Walter Brueggemann says this stated premise of Psalm 27 insists that “nothing … is severe enough to shake confidence in Yahweh who is light, salvation, and stronghold.” We Christians will hear in the background the similar confidence of St. Paul: “… nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Do you see the couplets and the parallelisms in this psalm? This way of repeating and reinforcing an idea is a major characteristic of poetry and we especially see it in the poetry of the Psalms.

The repetition offers a bold message of deep confidence. This psalmist has been besieged by troubles before and has again experienced the unfailing faithfulness of Yahweh.

Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
    yet I will be confident.

Here again is God’s Great “Nevertheless.”

Even though these disasters are real; even though real danger threatens; even though life may be collapsing all around me … Yet. Nevertheless … I trust.

See how Psalm 27 hearkens back to Psalm 23: “…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” (or “forever” in the KJV).

One thing I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
    and to inquire in his temple.

This phrase doesn’t suggest life after death as much as it connotes a life immersed in God’s own life. A life lived constantly and consistently within the Presence of the Holy.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
    be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.

The psalmist shapes his request in light of the ancient blessing found in Numbers 6: The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Thus you shall bless the Israelites. You shall say to them:

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

This beautiful and familiar benediction is more than wishful thinking. Rather blessings such as this serve as “performative language” creating the reality of which they speak.

And so this psalmist, trusting in this stated reality, places his plea at the center of his praise. His confidence is real but evidently so is some new trouble; therefore this pray-er bends God’s ear and expects God to hear, listen, attend, answer, resolve this problem as in the past.

But the psalmist surely knows (as we all must come to realize) – God is not our puppet.

God is not our personal valet jumping to meet our every need in order to rescue us from any discomfort. No, Creator/Redeemer/Sustainer God knows what we truly need and knows when we truly need it. The Lord will respond in God’s own way in God’s own good time.

Our job is to trust.

Thus the poet of Psalm 27 concludes with a call to hope and courage:

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!


Walter Brueggemann. The Message of the Psalms. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press), 1984.

Psalm 106

Praise the Lord!

O give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever…

Happy are those who observe justice,
    who do righteousness at all times.

Praise the LORD! Praise Yahweh! Hallelu – YAH! See how all our praise, worship and thanksgiving is grounded in the name, in the being, in the character of God.

God’s steadfast love endures forever. You probably recognize this recurring theme throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. This statement of faith is a far cry from some of our modern misunderstandings. Have you ever heard someone say: “The God of the Old Testament is about Law and judgment but the God of the New Testament is about Grace and forgiveness.”

The ancient people of God would have puzzled over such a caricature of Yahweh.

The formulaic poetry of God as Creator and Liberator has always observed the “steadfast love of the Lord to the thousandth generation…” (In other words: forever.) This ancient biblical understanding has also always recognized God’s justice: “punishing iniquity to the third and fourth generation…”

Law and Grace, Judgment and Forgiveness. These have always been two sides of a coin.

But notice two things. One, the judgment may well have come from the natural consequences of the sin. Creator God (and we parents with our own children) often only need to wait for life to take its course so that people eventually experience the effect of what they have set into motion.

Actions have consequences. What goes around comes around.

But two, God promises the judgment can and will be curbed by grace. Within the formula, the punishment/consequences of our sinful choices may well affect our children and our children’s children, but the positive consequence of God’s eternal grace, forgiveness and steadfast love dwarfs the time bound consequence of our sinfulness.

God’s judgment is just. God’s justice is righteous. God’s way is grace.

And so the psalmist proclaims the reality, the state of being for all those who walk in this way as: “Happy/Blessed.”

“Happy” is the way the New Revised Standard Version translates the Hebrew word. Some other translations use the word “blessed.”

Whichever word you read here, always hear something much deeper and richer than any kind of feeling. This “happiness” is a state of being rather than an emotion. People who live according to God’s way, God’s justice, God’s righteousness are in turn (and in fact) living in a state of blessedness.

Both we and our ancestors have sinned;
    we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.

Have you ever heard someone complain that slavery was not their fault? The statement implies that because they were not personally responsible for slavery then they don’t need to feel responsible for the systemic racism that continues in America.

This attitude differs dramatically from the repentance of the psalmist. Even though he may not have been personally guilty of the sins of Israel, he accepted personal responsibility.

An understanding of communal sin and communal grace also shows up in the Passover Seder. No matter which generation celebrates the liberation from Egypt, no matter how many thousands of years later, the Haggadah reads: “God saved US…”

As a part of the whole people of God, WE are responsible even when we are not to blame. As a part of the whole people of God, WE are recipients of grace even when we do not deserve it.

Many times God delivered them,
    but they were rebellious in their purposes,
    and were brought low through their iniquity.
 Nevertheless he regarded their distress
    when he heard their cry.
For their sake he remembered his covenant, and showed compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

God’s Great Nevertheless.

In spite of iniquities and rebelliousness, God remains faithful to covenant. There surely will be consequences of misery and distress for a season. But there will also surely be abundance of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, steadfast love to the thousandth generation.

In other words: forever.

106 completes the Third Book of the Psalms, and as with each conclusion for each of the five books, we sing a doxology.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting.
And let all the people say, “Amen.”

    Praise the Lord!

Psalm 91

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
    who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress;
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91 seems to be a companion to Psalm 90.

In both, the Almighty/the Most High/the LORD is refuge/fortress/shelter/dwelling place/home.

In both Psalms, this Almighty/Most High/LORD is MY God. This is personal.

While Psalm 90 comes to this conclusion after some bold challenges demanding that God keep faith as promised, Psalm 91 begins with unquestioning trust in God’s unfailing faithfulness.

I have struggled with the bold confidence of this song and I’m not the only one. Some people have misread it so completely that they consider this psalm as a kind of magic assurance that they will be protected from any sort of harm.

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you…

These words are not guarantees however; they are confessions of the deep faith of someone who has been to hell and back. This is a song that remembers the very real disorientation of crisis and yet has moved on to a new orientation that is confident and calm. This psalmist is anything but naive; rather he lives life in the Big Picture, trusting in the ultimate faithfulness of the Author of The Story.

In the temptation stories in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus listened to the devil offer one of these promises with just such magical thinking:

God will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

So therefore, “IF you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of this Temple…” (Matthew 4:5-7). Jesus’ answer shows that twisting Scripture is nothing new and that responsible biblical interpretation is crucial to faithful living.

“It is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

The life and witness of our Lord himself teaches us that sometimes bad things DO happen to good people. That God does not wave a magic wand and make dangers go away. That our job is to encounter every challenge with bold courage.

When we read Psalm 91 through the lens of the deep confidence of Jesus, we too can trust in faith’s Nevertheless.

No matter what happens to me or mine – God is our shelter/fortress/refuge/home. No matter what happens to me or mine – God will never leave us or forsake us.

When we read Psalm 91 through the lens of the confidence of Paul, we too can say:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In a bit of an unusual shift, Psalm 91 finishes with a Divine Response. The psalmist hears the Word of the Lord answering the questions of Psalm 90 with a prophetic reassurance for Israel in Exile. Many individuals will not return to their homeland, but God’s beloved Son – Israel – can count on God’s ultimate deliverance.

Those who love me, I will deliver;
    I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
    I will be with them in trouble,
    I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
    and show them my salvation.

God’s people in all times, in all places can live with this same kind of confidence. No matter what. Nevertheless. Whatever.

In God’s ultimate Shalom, the LORD is our salvation.

Psalm 90

The Fourth Book of the Psalms begins with a Prayer of Moses, the man of God.

Moses is not the author of the psalm. Moses is the context of the psalm.

From the very beginning of the prayer, we think of Moses’ encounter with The Bush that Burned but was not Consumed; of his encounter on the mountain top with the God of Fire and Cloud.

The Psalm taps into the eternity of the Divine One: the One who exists outside of time. The Lord/Sovereign/King/Creator who spoke the cosmos into existence:

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

For a thousand years in your sight
    are like yesterday when it is past…

The context of Moses causes us to recall his deep submission to the Eternal One but also his argumentative relationship with God.

At first Moses argues against his calling to confront Pharaoh and lead the people out of slavery. Later, as both God and Moses share their frustrations with the stubborn willful Israelites, we recall his arguing against God’s wrath on behalf of their salvation.

The context of this Psalm of Moses causes us to remember the long weary forty years in the wilderness as he led the people from Egypt toward the Promised Land. But while we are reading this psalm and considering the context of Moses’ homeless, wandering people, we also consider the context of Israel in Exile hundreds of years later. Here is a prayer that emerged from their disorientation in Babylon as they grieved the loss of Temple, land and home.

God’s people are once again homeless.

So the bold affirmation that opens the Psalm of Moses proclaims Israel’s faith that “home” is not a place. Home is a Person.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.

The Psalmist of the Exile reaches back into their history when the ancestors had no land or Temple; no home. If the God of Moses was the faithful dwelling place for the wandering Israelites, then the Eternal God would remain faithful to these people exiled from their homes.

Then the prayer creates a bald contrast; The Lord/Sovereign/King/Creator may be timeless, but we humans are definitely time-bound creatures.

The days of our life are seventy years,
    or perhaps eighty, if we are strong…

Therefore teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.

Here is the key: wisdom.

Wisdom to realize that God is God and we are not.

Wisdom to understand that God sees even our secret sins and so acknowledgment and confession of our faults is the prudent response.

Wisdom to comprehend that stubborn willfulness incurs wrath while humble repentance brings forgiveness, grace and hope.

Wisdom to count our days.

Once again we recall the context of Moses as God’s provisioned people gathered manna in each new morning. Counting on just enough bread for each new day.

As we read this Psalm from our Christian context, we also remember the prayer our Lord taught us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Wisdom to live each day as gift and grace.

As the Psalmist acknowledges God’s power to “turn us back to dust,” the prayer also cries out in faith for God’s Own Self  to “turn.”

Turn, O LORD! How long?
    Have compassion on your servants!

Turn back to us, your stubborn willful people. Turn back to us, your toil and trouble people. Turn back to us, because of your steadfast love and covenant faithfulness.

There is an intriguing story in Exodus 32 that relates a “turning” of both God and Moses. While the “stiff-necked” people caroused in sin, Moses conferred with YHWH on the mountain top. The Lord’s wrath burned and threatened annihilation. Moses pleaded, argued and confronted God’s anger, recalling and reminding of God’s promises.

And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, tablets that were written on both sides, written on the front and on the back. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets.

The good and perfect Law was the “work of God,” Exodus declares. The “work of God” is glory and power, the Psalmist declares.

May the “work of our hands” also be thus: favored, blessed, just and established by the One who established the cosmos and established the nation of Israel.

May each day of our time-bound existence celebrate and participate in the eternal steadfast love of the Lord.

By the way…

Psalm 90 provides the form for the beloved hymn: O God, Our Help in Ages Past by Isaac Watts. It is one of many psalms he shaped into hymns in his work: The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament (1719). See here all the original nine stanzas and see how closely they follow the Psalm of Moses.

Psalm 107

O give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
    those he redeemed from trouble…

Psalm 107 celebrates surprising reversals.

Those who wandered in desert wastes found a straight way…

Prisoners who were bowed down in darkness were rescued from the gloom and found their bonds broken…

The sick who were near the gates of death were healed and made whole…

The ones who were tossed upon chaotic seas experienced the peace of still waters…

These inversions and reversals of crisis and disaster weave a bright thread through the tapestry of Israel’s life. The surprises of grace remind Israel that God is a God who hears and acts.

This tradition is an ancient one.

At the very beginning of the Exodus story, the I Am Who spoke from the bush that burned but was not consumed told Moses: “I have seen the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…”

I see.

I hear.

I know.

I come.

This God is a God who hears and acts.

The exultant song of Hannah celebrated her pregnancy after years of barrenness:

The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength…

The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.

The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes…

Mary’s Magnificat continues this tradition celebrating reversals:

The Lord has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty…

Psalm 107 repeats in every refrain: “They cried to the Lord in their trouble…”

and God delivered, God saved, God brought them to a safe place.

As Dr. Toni Craven says in her excellent work, The Book of Psalms: “Trust is born of a people’s remembered experience of being heard, delivered and sustained by a power independent of human control and larger than human understanding.”

God is a God who hears and acts.

Not because any of us deserve. But solely because of “God’s steadfast love that endures forever.”

This lovely phrase, “steadfast love,” is large and deep. The Hebrew word hesed (or chesed) comes into English in a variety of ways because the Hebrew meaning is so multivalent. The Hebrew writers chose a word that conveys a complex of meaning and we modern readers read into the English translation multifaceted understandings.

Mercy. Kindness. Goodness. Favor. Love.

Lovingkindness. Covenant Faithfulness.

Steadfast Love.

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works…

Psalm 107 sings like the song of those who have endured chaos, despair and disorientation. This celebration is not naive or simple. It is praise offered from the other side of the abyss. Thanksgiving offered with full knowledge of the grace that has redeemed impossibility and transformed it into ever new possibilities.

Let the redeemed of the LORD say so…


Toni Craven, The Book of Psalms (Liturgical Press, 1992) page 78.

Psalm 46

We will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.


God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.

The Psalmist pictures un-creation. Everything that is solid and dependable – even the ground beneath our feet – trembles, shakes and roars.

I think of the terror of earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes and wildfires. In an instant, whole worlds are devastated, turned upside down and inside out.

How can we not fear in the midst of such upheaval?

It is said that the encouragement not to fear is one of the most prevalent and consistent in the Bible. In the Genesis stories we hear God say to Abraham:  “Do not be afraid; I am your shield….”and to Jacob: “I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there.”

In the prophets, we hear the Word of the Lord come to God’s people again and again:

But now thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43)

In the New Testament stories, angels almost always introduce themselves to humans with the words: “Don’t be afraid.”

In the gospels, Jesus is pictured as the One who walks upon the “un-creation:” who stands above the chaos and darkness of the raging seas.

The disciples’ boat was far from the land, battered by the waves for the wind was against them.

And early in the morning Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.

But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

“It is I” Jesus proclaims.


Fear as a human emotion is normal and common. Our emotions are linked to our experiences. We feel fear when this happens; we feel sad when that happens; we feel happy when something else happens. We humans can’t control these emotions since they come from our gut and not from the thinking, cognitive, choice-making part of our being.

But the Divine Encouragement addresses something deeper than either our intellect or our gut. Here is the life of faith. The way of trust.

In the core of our being, we affirm the foundational Presence of “I AM;” the “Present Help” and we place every circumstance of our lives within the context of that Unseen Unshakable Reality.

Even when we are afraid, we do not fear. This is the confidence of Psalm 46.

Throughout Scripture, there is only one thing that is ours to “fear.”

So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul…(Deuteronomy 10)

The One we love and serve with all our heart and soul is always also the One whom we cannot fathom; the One beyond our understanding and out of our control.

The Psalmist calls us to “behold.”

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
    see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.

And the Psalmist calls us to “be still.”

It is only in this still place in the core of our being, that we can know the foundational Presence of “I AM.”

Be still and know.

Be still and know that I Am!

Be still and know that I Am God!
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.


“Eye of the Hurricane” by Moyashi-chan

Charlotte and Janie talk about Sin

Janie and Charlotte grew up in the same Southern Fundamentalist denomination and were best friends in college. Now – after years of growing in some different directions – they are back in touch sharing blogs about how they see faith, politics and culture. Here are some brief interchanges as they engage Charlotte’s Living in The Story project.

Janie’s response to Charlotte’s blog on sin:

So much of what you say here rings true, Charlotte.  I totally agree that sin causes all kinds of natural consequences and we have only ourselves to blame for it.

Still . . .

It seems to me that what you’re describing here–broken relationships, separation from God and each other, self-bending–are symptoms, not causes. The original sin was not choosing to break the relationship, but choosing to exalt ourselves over God by the simple act of not believing him.

Where does temptation fit in all this? (You may have discussed the temptation aspect elsewhere.) We don’t have to agree on whether Adam and Eve were historical characters to understand the meaning of the serpent’s snare: “Did God really say that? Are you sure he has your best interest at heart? Don’t you understand that his real intention is to keep you dependent and inferior?”

The heart of sin is rebellion against God’s righteous authority–not acknowledging him as God, as Paul says in Romans 1. In the divine scheme of things, that’s not just tragic choice (though it is that too, of course)–it’s a crime. All sin is in some form rebellion against God, as David admitted in Psalm 51: “Against you, and you only, have I sinned.”

As you said, there are all kinds of natural consequences, but judgment is not one of them. The consequence of sin is not just a question of what we do, but of Who he is. “God as Judge sees and names what is real” (quoting Charlotte). That’s what God as Prophet does. God as Judge names the crime and pronounces a penalty–that’s what a judge does. Otherwise the word means nothing. The import of the flood story (which, again, we don’t have to accept as literally true in order to assess its meaning) is not only that God has a right to judge, but that he is right to judge.

We humans do bear responsibility for this: by deciding to reject him as Lord, we made him our Judge. To be true to his own righteousness, he has to judge, and someone has to pay. That’s where blood atonement comes in; otherwise it makes no sense at all.

Charlotte’s response back to Janie:

We don’t really disagree, Janie. Or at least not very deeply, I think.

“The original sin was not choosing to break the relationship, but choosing to exalt ourselves over God by the simple act of not believing him…” (Charlotte quoting Janie). I would say the Bible calls this idolatry, listed at the top of the Top Ten List of the 10 Commandments. I still think Augustine’s definition fits here as description, not just consequence. “incurvatus in se” – the self curved in upon itself. (Do you remember C.S. Lewis used the concept of “bentness” in his Perelandra series?)

No, I don’t talk much about temptation here. Happy to do that with you though.

Yes, Scripture speaks of sin as “crime.” That is one way to think about it. Barbara Brown Taylor also points out the biblical understanding of sin as “sickness.” Depending on which one we humans emphasize determines our understanding of appropriate “treatment.” Sin as crime demands judgment/penalty/punishment. Sin as sickness needs diagnosis/compassion/healing. Both are valid metaphors and both are present in Scripture. (I think you would really enjoy Brown’s book.)

I think we differ slightly in our understanding of God as Judge. I would say, within the created world the Just God has put into motion natural consequences for our sin that is indeed a kind of judgment. I would say it is God’s judgment that comes to us in the consequences. The brokenness, the bentness, the curving away from God, the rebellion, the self-centeredness all produce results in our lives (and in the lives of others) that have the power to challenge and entice us back to proper alignment. I still call that process the judgment and justice of God. That does not negate a belief in judgment as an external indictment by the Divine Judge. I just don’t see that operating in our world as it currently functions. Who knows what The End will look like? I leave that in God’s hands.

“To be true to his own righteousness, he has to judge, and someone has to pay. That’s where blood atonement comes in; otherwise it makes no sense at all.” (Janie’s words) This is important. The way you speak of atonement is ONE way of understanding what happened/happens through the cross. I refer you to Father Richard Rohr’s brief reflection on blood atonement. This could spark more interesting conversation.


Thanks for this. I always enjoy these talks of ours. Love…


See their first conversation on the Nature of Scripture here.

See Janie Cheaney’s Bible Challenge project here.

See more of their conversations here at Charlotte’s Intersections: Faith Culture Politics website.

Charlotte and Janie talk about the Nature of Scripture

Janie and Charlotte grew up in the same Southern Fundamentalist denomination and were best friends in college. Now – after years of growing in some different directions – they are back in touch sharing blogs about how they see faith, politics and culture. Here are some brief interchanges as they engage Charlotte’s Living in The Story project.

Janie responds to Charlotte’s blog:

I understand what you’re saying here, Charlotte (at least, I’m pretty sure!). Sounds like a Barthian approach (Karl Barth), and there’s much to be said for it. Certainly we apprehend scripture subjectively, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no objective meaning.

I recall someone telling me that the Bible is not propositional, but personal. In a way that’s true. But what do we do with the many, many propositional statements (the Ten Commandments, for example)?

Here’s how I might amend that idea: the Bible IS personal, and in its pages a very definite Person emerges: God himself. He is the main character in his story, and in his gracious condescension he invites us to take part in it. We encounter him subjectively, but as we grapple with the word he shapes us through it, conforming us to the image of Christ.

I agree with much of what you say here, and you say it beautifully, but I would disagree on points that turn out not to be minor. How do we “know” that the words in Deuteronomy were not spoken by Moses? How can determine that the letters to Timothy were “probably” not written by Paul? (A fragment of the gospel of Mark recently discovered has been dated all the way back to the first century.) It seems to me that those are assumptions that look for evidence, and tend to undermine the traditional understanding of “authority.”

Maybe we can talk about this sometime . . .

Charlotte responds:

Thank you for reading and for commenting, Janie. I love our conversations and am a smaller person since I dropped the ball earlier on keeping them going. Yes, let’s begin again talking about things that matter.

Biblical authority is indeed one of those things that matter deeply. You know I have made a journey that has changed my own understanding of what authority looks like. The Bible continues to be authoritative to me and within my circle of progressive Christians, but the “how” is different from what it was when I was a fundamentalist Christian. You and I could have much to talk about within this conversation. Let’s find a way to do that.

In the meantime, here is a quote from William Willimon and his wonderful book: Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry (2002)

We call the Bible “inspired” because the Bible keeps reaching out to us, keeps striking us with it’s strange truth, keeps truthfully depicting God…We trust the Bible because on enough Sundays we discover that God’s Word has the power to produce the readers that it requires.

In the reading of Scripture, the Creator is at work, something is made out of nothing, the church takes form around the words of the Word. (page 128)

Janie comes back:

Beautiful quote from Willimon, and I’m up for that discussion if we can find a suitable format. Here’s a proposal: Several years ago I co-wrote a series of Bible studies on the scope of scripture–the redemption story taken as a whole, with pivotal characters and overarching themes. The rationale, which you may identify with, is here:

If I read your weekly posts, would you read mine? They’re very different in focus; mine are more educational and yours are meditative. As you’ll notice I don’t get into textual concerns like the two creation accounts (and I acknowledge there are two but it doesn’t bother me much). I’m focusing on the events and what they might mean to God and what they mean for us.

A couple months of reading each other’s–perhaps without responding–might give us a better platform to address each other.

Charlotte’s response:

Good idea! You’re on! I downloaded the first few lessons and I’m saving them in a file. I’ll respond to your blogs soon. I think it’s wonderful that we both came up with something similar, motivated out of similar concerns and interests!


See Janie Cheaney’s Bible Challenge project here.

See more of their conversations here at Charlotte’s Intersections: Faith Culture Politics website.

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Who said this? If you are familiar with the passion stories in the gospels, you will undoubtedly answer: Jesus.

But as we read in Psalms, we understand the words came from the poets of Israel as they considered and re-considered what it meant to be God’s chosen people.

If God is our covenant God, (Israel may have pondered) then won’t God remain ever faithful to covenant promises for blessing? But did they forget the covenant also promised “curses”? Penalty? Consequences for their sins?

So again and again in The Story of God’s people, painful cycles repeated themselves throughout generations. Faithfulness degenerated into unfaithfulness. Passion turned to apathy. Obedience became disobedience.

And in those cycles the Covenant God would draw back, leaving the people to their own devices.

So the poets of Israel sang a painful lament:

 Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

Walter Brueggemann’s book, The Message of the Psalms, sees three major movements within the Psalms.

Psalms of Orientation sing of the order, beauty and trustworthiness of the world. Songs of Creation, Songs of Torah and the Wisdom Psalms give thanks and praise that “the world is a well ordered, reliable and life giving system, because God has ordained it that way and continues to preside effectively over the process” (26). Psalm 104 is a classic psalm of orientation.

Psalms of Disorientation lament the world gone wrong. Things are not as they ought to be. Chaos reigns instead of order. Unchecked wickedness and greed infect the world while goodness, honesty and integrity seem foolish ideals. The poets cry out: Why!?!? How long, O Lord!?!? Where is mercy? Where is justice? Why don’t you DO something?! Psalm 10 and Psalm 22 speak to the confusion of the seekers when the faithfulness and reliability of God are in question.

Psalms of New Orientation speak once again of order, justice and beauty. But this time, the poet sings with a new understanding of God’s constancy through the darkness of disorientation. In spite of all, through it all, God perseveres to reconcile and redeem. The poet’s fresh insights to this divine work make the song all the more joyful. Think of the 23rd Psalm as one of New Orientation.

Psalm 22 sings out a beacon of hope in the midst of the depression:

And yet…


And yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.

In a recent blog, I talked about how a good sermon will name both the realities that we can see and the realities that we cannot see. The psalmists do just that.

There IS experience of forsakenness, abandonment, aloneness within our human reality. Nevertheless there is also Persistent Presence, Stubborn Love and Amazing Grace. In all our laments, we must also hold on in faith and hope that “goodness and mercy follow us,” pursue us, will always find us. We must always name the Light even in the midst of the darkness.

You will recognize numerous allusions to this Psalm from the passion stories in the New Testament gospels. Mark and Matthew, Luke and John lived immersed in these songs and poems of Israel. When they took on the challenge of describing the indescribable, of explaining the inexplicable Christ Event, they naturally mined the poetic and prophetic words of the Psalms.

They divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

We don’t know if the historical Jesus said exactly these words on the cross, but we can know – as the faithful Son, as the true and perfect embodiment of Israel – his experience of suffering and hope would have been grounded in his Holy Scriptures. The One who is the Living Word brings the words of Scripture to life.