Psalm Psnippet 24: Why Monotheism?

The earth is the Lord and the fullness thereof
              The world and those who dwell therin
For he has founded it upon the seas
              And established it upon the rivers
Psalm 24:1-2

I’ve been reading Robert Alter’s wonderful translation of the Torah – especially spending time with the explanatory notes, which usually get short shrift in my devotions. One thing they remind me is that much of the Old Testament is written as polemic: a major concern was to establish the God of Israel as the only god of all the nations. Monotheism wasn’t assumed, so how do we get there?

David does this in Psalm 24 by claiming God’s authority through creation and redemption.

Creation is clear: the earth is the Lord’s because he founded it.

Redemption is more complicated: the earth is the Lord’s because he founded it upon the seas. Think back to Genesis. Before any creation there was a “deep” and the Spirit of God was “over the face of the waters.” These waters were primordial chaos – a nightmarish, destructive rush of power which God rescues the earth from. The waters return to the earth in the judgement of the Flood. After this, God makes a covenant with Noah that water will never again destroy the earth.

That promise is a covenant which we are all included in: Jew and Gentile. God rescued the whole earth from the waters. God redeemed everyone, in a primordial rescue, from the chaos of non-being.

Likewise, Jesus’ redemption is for the whole earth. That is why he is the Lord of the Earth: he redeemed it from bondage to the chaos of sin as surely as God established the earth upon the rivers.

Note: As always, this is a Psnippet. I am not a real exegete, just playing at being one in a tight 250 words.

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Psalm Psnippet 23: Lord is My Shepherd

How do you talk about something that everyone knows? I’m not likely to give y’all any new insights on this Psalm. People have been interpreting it since, well, Christianity was a thing.

This is the problem with all Biblical interpretation. The text has been here for thousands of years. You’re unlikely to come up with anything new.

Should I give up?

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Psalm Psnippet 22: Why Rescue

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord praise him!” (Ps 22:22-23a)

In Psalm 22, David turns to call out to God even as he is forsaken by God and surrounded by people who seek to destroy him. “Trouble is near/and there is none to help” (v 11).

So he calls to God for help. But when rescue comes, David pivots: the good result from his rescue is his praise of God among the people. Rather than simply luxuriating in relief from personal pain, he turns immediately to praising God’s name in public.

Like all the psalms, we can read this as referring, ultimately, to Jesus. After all, he quoted it on the cross: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” This suggests the denouement of the crucifixion – Jesus’ resurrection and ascension – likewise has the goal God’s glory ‘in public.’

The end of this story is God’s praise. That means, when we tell the story of Jesus (as I’ve just bungled in a church-sponsored “2-minute testimony”), that’s where we should end – praising God, not tangled in metaphysical speculation or engaged in our own struggles. Neither of those are bad but neither are they the point. The point is to “proclaim [God’s] righteousness to a people yet unborn” (v 31).

PCA confronting racism

To say that the Presbyterian Church in America has a race problem is like saying a stray dog has fleas. Clearly true but kinda disgusting to think about too much.

That’s why I’m glad a recent Ad Interim Commission on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation, composed of leaders already doing the work in the PCA, have written a report exploring what the elders of the denomination think about race and making concrete recommendations as to how we can move forward productively. Pointless, you say, but reports by commissions are how Presbyterians take things seriously.

Continue reading PCA confronting racism

Naomi Klein Needs Jesus

Naomi Klein needs Jesus.

Duh – we all do. But in her latest book, No Is Not Enough, we see a Jesus-shaped hole toward the end when her hope lands in people, I’d suggest unsustainably.

Throughout the book, Klein does an excellent job of laying out the extent of our current crisis. An interlocking set of climate change restrictions, radical capitalist manipulations and reality TV politics are pushing us from one crisis to another. We are on a carousel seized by a madman who is spinning it faster and faster and getting off seems impossible.

Although Klein uses many of her old analytic categories, they shed some real light on our current political and cultural moment. President Trump really is a manifestation of the 90s triumph of licensing which she describes in No Logo and Secretary DeVos’ approach to education really is an extension of what happened in a post-Katrina New Orleans, a la Shock Doctrine. If her arguments seem old-school lefty (which they do, to me) perhaps that means we haven’t paid her enough attention.

So, with all of this gloom, how does Klein see a way out? Through the power of the people. The way will be hard, she tells us, but we just need to get tough. People are hungry for real change and when a shock comes, it is also a chance for ordinary people to seize the day and comprehensively fix all our problems. She points to a document she helped draft, the Leap Manifesto, as one attempt to tackle problems comprehensively and at the root. This one document isn’t sufficient but it sets a model for action in other places to address our interlocking crises.

Now, I believe in people power. After all, I work at a place that seeks to empower faith leaders. But that isn’t – that can’t be – where my hope ultimately lies. People screw up all the time. Even large numbers of people. Even the proletariat. Ultimately, my hope for society, as for myself personally, is in Jesus and his work of reconciliation.

That sounds nice and pious but it is difficult to see concrete application. But here is one simple way: we cannot place pressure on ourselves or our politics to fix everything. They cannot do that and we cannot do that. If we try, we will burn ourselves out or become terrible people to everyone around us. Huge pressure to fix everything does that. In my brief time in advocacy I’ve seen examples of both. But the good news is that God can fix it. Jesus died to fix it and he was raised to prove it.

I’m sorry, I don’t intend to get carried away. No Is Not Enough is valuable for what it is: a stirring indictment and analysis of our current political and social moment. Klein’s prescription is even valuable in itself – the progressive movement must take hold of intersectional, knotty problems and pose big answers to big problems.

Ultimately, though, we just all need Jesus.

Psalm Psnippet 21: God’s Enemies

I get nervous when the Bible talks about God’s enemies. I’d rather a pleasant God, without edges. But that wouldn’t be a personal God. That would be my personal idol.

Psalm 21 discusses ‘the King’ (who I’ve been reading as Jesus, pace Ari) dealing with his enemies. It uses explicit imagery:

You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
    their posterity from mankind.
Though they plot evil against you
    and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed.

 (vv 10-11)

This is weird. Jesus was big on “loving your enemies.” And here David seems to say that Jesus “will destroy [your enemies’] descendants from the earth.” That doesn’t sound like love.

This is the part where I make clear that I’m not a real Biblical scholar. Consult your pastor.

Continue reading Psalm Psnippet 21: God’s Enemies

Psalm Psnippet 20: Answering Gethsemene

“O Lord, save the King
May he answer when we call.”
Psalm 20:9

The first straight-up Psalm of blessing, Psalm 20 swiftly moves from asking God for help ‘for you,’ the interlocutor, to assuring us that God will help ‘his anointed.’ From there, the Psalm closes on verse 9 – a call to the Lord to save the king.

If we pray this psalm we are praying to God for the anointed, the King. Our hermeneutical principle is clear: we’re praying for Jesus, fulfilling the Gethsemane mandate which the disciples failed.

What is most amazing, though, is how God answers this prayer. Jesus died, was brutally murdered, for our sake. This was, amazingly, how he ‘answered us when we called.’ By joining us in our weakness, Jesus submitted to death, even death on a cross. Our sin, guilt and shame was nailed to the cross in him and his merit was applied to us.

But then, gloriously, Jesus triumphed. He defeated death in his resurrection – Easter follows Good Friday. This is why it is good news. A dead Jesus can’t answer us when we call but the living God does.

I’m at my word count, and these things are profound. But praise the Lord, who saves the King and answers us when we call.