Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Re-reading the Psalms

One of our pastors recommended Peterson's book Answering God. Early on, Peterson says we have three languages; really they're overlapping subsets but I agree they're broad categories of speech:
  • The simple expression of a need—not very articulate but often effective. A baby's cry is an example of this language.
  • Another language is what conveys information and ideas.
  • Persuasive, motivational speech is the third.
According to Peterson, the Psalms are examples of the first language, or category of speech. Now of course they aren't just the first category, but a lot of what they are is that:
Give ear unto my words, O Lord.
Consider my meditation.
Hearken unto the voice of my cry,
My king and my God,
For unto thee will I pray.
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning.
O Lord, in the morning
Will I direct my prayer unto thee
And will look up.
I don't remember which psalm that was (probably 3 or 5; too lazy to look it up) but it was set to music some years ago and I remembered the words from that. One could argue that the psalmist is conveying information here (My Plans for Tomorrow Morning) and maybe trying to persuade or influence God (Give ear, consider, hearken). But I think Peterson is on to something in saying the psalms are mostly the cry of a dependent, contingent creature, directed toward the Creator.

It's struck me lately that we are a lot less capable and secure in ourselves than we often think we are. It's not just in Tunisia or Egypt or China where the government might decide to persecute someone arbitrarily—who was that guy that the feds accused (incorrectly) of spreading anthrax?

And I believe it was here in the US that the government released radioactive dust into the air to see how many people it would sicken or kill.

Besides governments and organized crime, there's disease and accident. Men my age, and younger, have dropped dead from heart attacks—sometimes with no prior warning.

We know how a lot of diseases happen; what we don't know is why we don't have just about everybody sick or dying just about all the time. The same could be said for motor vehicle (or airplane) accidents.

It would not surprise me if one day I learn that there really are angels preventing death and disease, that "upholding all things by his powerful word" and "in him all things consist" are more literal than we usually think.

But one thing is certain: every moment of every day is a gift. By reminding me of my contingent existence, my dependence upon a merciful Lord, they help me appreciate that gift.

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