Psalm 6

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
                             —how long?!?!

More questions.

The Psalms overflow with the mystery of living. Psalm 6 struggles with what may be some physical illness. This psalm certainly speaks to those of us who have languished in the pain or fear or misery of our body’s un-health and dis-ease.

Ever since our earliest history, we humans have wondered if our physical circumstances could be the result of some sin of ours; some failure to please the gods.

Does the drought or the flood come because of sin?

Did the cancer or heart failure happen because of a life style or the thoughts of our most secret heart?

Are we being punished? Or disciplined? The psalmist seems to think so.

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
    or discipline me in your wrath.

Probably a faithful response to this dilemma may be “maybe.”

Or “Yes” AND “No.”

Or “Both/And.”

We moderns have learned the power of the psyche and its influence over the physical. “Psycho-somatic” is not a put-down; thoughts, feelings, emotions really can create physical realities.

We moderns have seen how our own patterns of exercise, our eating and drinking habits can contribute to preventable but deadly conditions.

We moderns have understood the consequences of our actions within our environment. Polluted water, soil and air really can create cancers and way too many other diseases.

So “no” – I don’t think God reaches out from heaven and zaps us with depression,  diabetes or asbestos poisoning as punishment for our wrongs.

But “yes,” our actions have consequences. And yes, we may have opportunity to learn some important lessons from the “discipline” of life’s challenges so that we may change our ways for the future.

That said, no matter what caused the sickness, dis-ease or un-health, the psalmist stands firm in the promises of God’s covenant. No matter what foolishness I have engaged in; no matter what recklessness someone else may have inflicted upon me – even so – nevertheless – we count on God for faithfulness, salvation and healing. Not because we deserve it, not because we are faithful enough but rather because God is always faithful enough. “For the sake of God‘s steadfast love.”

For the sake of the cosmic witness and testimony to God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

Turn, O Lord, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who can give you praise?

“Turn, O Lord.” In other words, “repent.”

Does this idea bother you? That Scripture sometimes describes God as “repenting” ? If so, it’s probably because we badly understand the concept of “repentance.”  In biblical language, repenting doesn’t mean feeling badly, feeling sorry, feeling ashamed of what we have done. Repentance doesn’t have much of anything to do with feelings.

Rather, repentance is action. A reversal, a turning. Stopping one way of acting and beginning another very different action.

The psalmist entreats God to turn, to cease the inactive waiting and start to do something. Begin the healing, redeeming, saving that is God’s nature and work.

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears…

Who else has been here – flooding your bed with tears and staring into space with a paralyzing self-pity? Once again, the psalmists articulate the human condition and remind us that we are not alone in our suffering. There is nothing sinful about feeling sad, angry, hopeless and helpless. This is the condition of finite mortals in a universe that does not bend to our control.

When I used to care for church folks, I always tried to affirm their emotions as completely normal; a logical response to an unfair, unsettling or uncomfortable circumstance. Sometimes when I would pray with them, I would pray these psalms and name the cancer or the other dis-eases as “the enemy.” Not that I thought of them as an evil power in themselves; demons able to inflict tragedy upon innocents. I do, however, think of these conditions as part of the “evil” and brokenness of our fallen world. Something that exists that God did not, does not intend for us.

This is not the understanding of some people. There are some very pious believers who are so committed to assign all power to God and to submit to God’s sovereignty that they figure everything that comes in life must come directly from the hand of God. If God is all-powerful, then everything must happen by the will of God. For them, it’s all about God.

In some other versions of Christian thinking, there is a heresy that claims sickness can be prayed away if a person has enough faith. It claims that illness or poverty or tragedy is proof that someone lacks faith. It claims faith as a magic talisman against evil; that “enough faith” (and maybe “enough” financial donations!) will protect us from any negative experience. For them, it’s all about us.

Surely our psalmist is thoroughly theo-centric.  For him, life IS all about God but, what that means for the psalmist, is that God is IN everything that happens. But also, life IS about us; no matter our emotions or feelings, we can still choose to trust God IN everything that happens.

Even as his faith assures him that the Lord has heard his weeping, acknowledged his supplication, accepted his prayer, the psalmist recognizes that his circumstances may not magically change. And so in the midst of the weeping, we too can trust and rest and wait.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
    for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.

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 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 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.

BECAUSE

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.

I AM.

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.

At-One-Ment
https://cac.org/at-one-ment-not-atonement-2018-01-21/

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: http://www.janiebcheaney.com/?p=946.

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 23

The beloved 23rd Psalm is a song of gratitude and deep confidence.

In the best tradition of poetry, the Psalms offer us images, metaphors and pictures of this God who created and sustains all things. Here is the lovely image of shepherd, repeated in Psalm 28:9 and Psalm 80:1.

The poet acknowledges the reality of “dark valleys,” “evil” and “enemies,” but even so, there is complete trust in this God who is Shepherd and Protector. The psalmist believes everything that is needed for life – food, drink, and right paths – comes ultimately from the hand of the God who is Shepherd and Provider.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the image of shepherd often dovetailed with the image of king. Within the ancient Jewish tradition, the king was to be caretaker and protector of God’s people. A common complaint of the prophets was that the kings of Israel too often neglected this shepherding role and instead plundered God’s flock. The prophetic word of the Holy One promised to once again gather the scattered flock, leading them and tending to them as the faithful Shepherd.

In the New Testament, the Gospel of John amplifies this Shepherd metaphor as he tells the Jesus story. For John, it is Jesus who leads the sheep, provides food and offers protection. John’s Jesus says explicitly: I AM the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

As we read the Psalms this year, we will see other metaphors that describe our human experience with God. Beside shepherd and king…

God is like a a father.

God is like a mother.

God is like a judge.

God is like eagle’s wings.

God is like a rock, a fortress, a shield.

God is like water and light.

The poets of the Psalms explore the same core questions that emerge again and again throughout all the Scriptures:

Who is God?

Who are we?

“Who are we as God’s people?” is most often the question Scripture ponders. The families of the patriarchs, the people of Israel, the community of the church: who are we together in relationship with one another as well as to the God who is the Source and Goal of all creation?

But in Psalm 23, the poet sings an unusually personal song.

YHWH is MY shepherd. I therefore have everything I could possibly need … You are with ME …

Yes, God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is the King of Israel. “Emmanuel” – God with US. The Shepherd of the flock.

But the psalmist here also experiences relationship with the Shepherd as personal, intimate and familiar.

New Testament 3 Production Still Photography

Much as Jesus portrays the relationship when he told the story of the Shepherd who left the 99 to go in search of the one. When he found that single lost sheep, he rejoiced! Each one is precious.

The hesed of the Lord – the goodness and mercy and compassion – follows Me, pursues Me, runs after Me. All the days of my life. Through every trial. Through every need: the Lord is my Shepherd. There is no doubt.

Psalm 10 Sin

Psalm 10 articulates an ancient human dilemma:

If God is good, then why does evil exist?

If God is powerful, then why doesn’t God do something?

So maybe God is not so good.

OR maybe God is not so powerful.

Theodicy is the name theologians use for this conundrum.

But most of the rest of us just ask: WHY?!?!

I wonder how many people have turned away from faith because of these unanswerable questions. I say “unanswerable” because we won’t find The Definitive Answer this side of heaven but still each of us answers the questions some way or another. Here is how the Psalmist grapples with the question.

Naming the Reality that Can Be Seen

In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor.

Those greedy for gain renounce the Lord.

Their ways prosper at all times and they think in their heart, “We shall not be moved.”

They lurk that they may seize the poor; they seize the poor and drag them off in their net.

They think in their heart, “God has forgotten; God has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

I could easily use these same words to describe my own world in 2018. This is what America looks like to me, how the world turns on its tilted axis. The world is not “straight” and “true” according to my gut assessment of how things “ought” to be.

Questioning  God

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

And so the Psalmist – and I on so many difficult days – challenge God. “Where are you? Why won’t you act, intercede, interrupt this madness? Why don’t you DO SOMETHING!”

Some Christians believe it is sinful to question God. They would say such arguing shows a lack of faith. But I say – along with the Psalmist – that challenging God shows an immense faithfulness. We call upon God to keep promises, to bring light and order into the darkness and chaos. We want God to be God.

This profound faithfulness of asking, seeking, knocking is grounded in our faith that God IS indeed God. That God IS at work in the world. That God IS bringing justice and righteousness and shalom into being. Even if we can’t see it. Even if generations of believers won’t see it fulfilled or completed. We hold on to hope, confidence, faith that God knows, that God sees, that God keeps promises.

Naming the Reality that Cannot Be Seen

But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief,
    that you may take it into your hands;
the helpless commit themselves to you;
    you have been the helper of the orphan…

O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
    you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed…

Here is the Psalmist’s answer to our painful theodicy. God IS good. God IS powerful. God IS just. God IS at work in the world.

Maybe instead of asking: “why doesn’t God do something,” a better question would be: “why don’t WE do something?”

So let us stay busy participating in the divine work of goodness and justice. Wherever we are, with whatever power we are given, in whichever challenges we encounter.

Week 48: November 26 – December 2

In 48 weeks, you have read through the entire Bible and now this is our final week of reading.

We’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly – the story of us humans throughout history. We’ve seen the amazing grace of the Author of The Story – an overarching narrative of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness for all generations. We’ve seen how our own stories in 2017 are folded into The Grand Story of the One who is The Beginning and The End, the Alpha and Omega.

Thank you for joining me on this journey as we have considered together the mysteries of Scripture. Take a break. Breathe in the beauty of Advent. And then consider beginning Living in The Story again in January. Every time we read, we discover something new. The mystery, beauty and truth are unsearchable.

Habakkuk

Zephaniah

Haggai

Zechariah

Malachi

Psalms 22

Psalms 102

Mark 15-16

Ephesians

Helpful information for Week 48: The Prophets

The Historical Settings of the Prophets of Israel

Living in The Story final blog.

The Word of the Lord; Thanks be to God