Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Reading the Psalms

The Psalms have always left me kind of dizzy in reading them. They are filled with intense emotions. They are begging, pleading, shouting, crying dirges of doom and despair; and at the same time, they are symphonies of joy, love, hope, celebration, and exaltation. They travel the entire gamut of Human experience. They are the esse of Christian worship.

However, the Psalms are not easy to understand and are difficult to digest. Having been raised with liberal sensibilities, seeing such harsh requests took be a back. I was still plagued with deistic notions of a passionless God who demands passionless devotion. The reality was that when I experienced such rough-patches, I put God out of the picture. The world of justice would do without any petition for God's intervention, let alone breaking my enemies.

But as my biblical literacy grew, and my commitment to take the Scriptures seriously, the Psalms first came alive through certain 'emergent' readings of them. Slowly taking steps into imaging myself holistically (i.e. allowing myself to feel and weigh my emotions), certain authors helped me see the Psalms as God's recognition of the Human experience before Him. This was not to be cut out or erased from worshiping and communing with the Sovereign Lord.

This was a great insight that allowed me to begin to read the Psalms earnestly. But there was still a certain weirdness about the Psalms. Certain authors implied even the imperfection of the Psalms. It was in this vein: God wants you to be yourself and authentic, that's not necessarily what's best, but He wants you to express yourself. This translated that the Psalms let you be honest, but, well, maybe calling for your enemies to be cut off from the Earth is not the perfection we should strive for.

For those familiar with the Early Church, there was a certain kind of Macionism at work.

Christology helped me save the Psalms from discarding them. I could understand the Psalms as Christ's song book. Israel sang them as prophecy. All of the words that come from them belong to Jesus. Therefore Psalm 22 is Christ's grief on the cross, Psalm 2 represents God's conquest of His enemies in the resurrection, despite the conniving of both Jew and Gentile. All Psalms find recourse in Christ.

Again, this was another helpful development for me. It gave a certain depth and continued biblical literacy. However, as one might expect, the more difficult Psalms remained distant from me. Instead of veering away because they represented some imperfect human emotion, now I kept them away by explaining them away. They applied to Christ, not me. There was a gulf that I created.

This is not an uncommon theological opinion in much of popular-level evangelical Protestantism. Christ has called together a group of individuals. They may be Christians, or Disciples, or Followers, but we all maintain our own sphere of individuality. In fact, the adopted scorn of identifying as 'Christian' speaks against such distance. Yes, between Christ and the Church, His People, there is a gulf, as in between King and Country. But this also a mystical unity.

What started me down this questioning and keeping the hard Psalms away at a safe distance was broken down by Psalms that spoke of asking for forgiveness. If this is Christ's song, and He is sinless, how can there be repentance and confession of sins? How could Christ speak of His own sins as eating away His bones?

But Christology is not Christology if it does not include ecclesiology. Christ is both Head and Body. The People of God are not mere onlookers, but participants in Divine Glory.

Thus, now I can rightly understand Psalms that speak of the consequences of sin and the appeal to divine forgiveness and mercy as a song Christ sings and a song I am singing. Christ sings this song because of me, because of His People. He puts the failure and laments of His Body before His Father. He assumes the sin of the world. He is baptized in the Jordan to identify and full assume the mission of Israel in Himself. He is the beloved Lamb.

But Christ is also the conquering Lion of Judah. He is the Righteous One bringing down the domain of Satan, purging the sins of the Flesh, and overcoming the pride of the present World-Order. He destroys His enemies and vanquishes His opponents. None can challenge the King of all Kings and Lord of all Lords.

But if Christ is the 'Whole Christ' in Head and Body, these songs are also mine. I am righteous, and am growing in righteousness, but its all in relation to being 'in Christ'. My works are not mere dirty rags, but, 'in Christ', they are adornments God has given me to be dressed with (c.f. Rev. 19:8).

But here let me pause. Life in Christ is a journey into realizing that precious union with the Savior. In the process we are repeating (imitating) the life of Christ in our own flesh. We are given the Law of Christ, the Law of Love, the Law of Perfect Freedom, that commends us to love our God and love our neighbor as ourselves. We are tasked with these works.

But, as verse I referenced above, these works are given to us to complete. They are gratuitous gifts of God. The Saints did not 'earn' the white robes. They were given them. Our good works are themselves gifts from God. They do not allow us to stand.

And here, again, I must pause. 'Good Works', as in words other words, are rammed into Pharisaical definitions. All of these words have taken on self-defeating meanings. 'Pious' is an adjectival description of fluff. 'Righteous' is vicious and crushing disposition. 'Holy' is a mood of detachment and self-serving isolation.

What if 'Good Works' was primarily defined by the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector? What if the good works required are a broken and contrite heart? What if repentance is the righteous, holy, and pious disposition we are called to? As an online acquaintance put it, anti-Pharisaism becomes a neo-Pharisaism.

If the Psalms can be understood as our King's songs and our songs, if Jesus is the worship-leader of the grand assembly, maybe we can unlearn the corruptions of our false liberal age. Maybe we can really ask God to destroy our enemies, if our enemies are the oppression of the rich and powerful on the poor and downtrodden? And more importantly, what if that destruction is wrought in their conversion, a veritable death and resurrection?

This is just one example. The Psalms teach us how to hope, rejoice, and cry to the Lord over life and death, the God of Resurrection, the incomparable and matchless King Jesus Christ, Son of God.

No comments:

Post a Comment