5th September 2012

What Does It Say About Us?

“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in time of trouble?…
Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out.”
Psalm 10:1, 15 (NIV) 

Is the Bible a catalogue of books about God? Personally I’m not sure it is. 

The Bible records ways in which God has interfaced with humanity, certainly; it outlines ways to live and to worship, and narrates how different people or nations follow, or stray from, God-given principles; and it relates ways in which various humans experience the presence and the inwardly transforming work of the true God.

However, even the verses directly descriptive of God are necessarily put in terms tailored to the human mind, bound as it is by culture (Leviticus 20:24 & 25:55) or lifestyle (Isaiah 64:8). In the Old Testament, no-one got to see God’s face (Exodus 33:19-20), and in the New, few people recognised him (John 14:9). The Bible, the word of God for mankind, says almost as much about us as it tells about God—and, to me, the Book of Psalms is an example of this. For a compilation that has so much to offer in the way of language and metaphor, theological constructs and messianic prophecy, I find myself surprised by how emotionally untidy it is. 

If the Psalms represent a full spectrum of songs of worship, both in the past and in present use, then some of the choices for inclusion seem to validate emotional processing as a legitimate part of religious observance. Not, of course, the central purpose of prayer either alone or as a group, but still inseparable from the whole picture. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that these are poems and not sermons, what you do not often get in the Psalms is a dispassionate statement of doctrine or instruction. One cannot help noticing that in between the elation, rejoicing, praise and worship there’s an awful lot of fear, frustration and anger vented within this book…but then try writing down your own prayers when you hit an interesting period in life. Leaving out the Hebraic literary devices (idea rhymes, acrostics, cumulative parallelisms, triple entendre, metonymy, synecdoche, that sort of thing), you might find yours are embarrassingly similar to those of King David, Asaph and the rest. 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Study by Fiona Jones

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