Psalm 3

Slug ’em!

This is an adversity/encouragement psalm of King David.

Lots of enemies, which as I read it I related to problems, because I personally don’t warrant many enemies.

God speaking encouragement from a mountain, powerful over all.

So often David’s worry psalms have a night and morning in them, and this is another one.

When David arises, with the perspective of morning after mulling his fears, he calls on God to arise too.

He asks god to sock his enemies on the jaw and break their teeth.

It’s an effective non jargon poetic device asking the God of love to defend you so viscerally. Takes you right into the physicality of David’s threat.

And by the standards of middle eastern trash talk of the time, it’s almost comically mild. Based on other old testament passages, this sort of curse was more usually along the lines of wanting their eyes gouged out after watching their family slaughtered, and the earth where their palaces stood scorched.

But anyway, David asks for God’s vengence on his enemies.

Mondays I either fear or embrace my problems. Since they aren’t people, I can quite peacefully pray to God: help me slug em!

Ecclesiastes 6

“The few and meaningless days we pass through like a shadow”

This chapter doubles down on the themes of wealth and destiny. Wealth being pointless if you can’t enjoy it.

He contemplates a world where a rich person can die unloved and unnoticed, and says bitterly that even a stillborn baby would be better off, because, essentially, at least they never knew disappointment.

Seriously bleak stuff.

And on destiny he gets Job-like, thinking about the inequality of God and man. We can’t change our destiny, we can’t argue the case with God. He’s bigger than us. We’ve nowhere to turn.

Then the closing verses have the line I quoted at the top: we slip through life like a shadow. The last chapter wrapped up with a bit of a neat formula for living that would provide a degree of comfort. This chapter won’t give you an inch.

The authorship question is interesting here I think.

If it’s Solomon, talking like Job, it’s a poor-rich-guy narrative. So sad to live in luxury, and have everything you want!

But if it’s the later period, post exile, it is written by and for a broken people after a period of hideous persecution and cruelty towards the Jews. That would make this a work of post traumatic despair, like Dadaist art after world war One, or the cynical film noir of Hollywood in the late 1940s, or the lost-soul-of-Europe existentialism of Jean-Paul Satre, Camus and Kafka.

If it’s Solomon himself, I suppose it’s a rare journey, since as we are perhaps experiencing now, long periods of peaceful prosperity tend to numb people to spiritual matters.

I thought that as I watched a news item puff piece reporting on Easter. Lots of montages of kids looking for chocolate eggs. We appropriate the innocent delight of kids to feel good about life, but if we’re telling them Easter means no more than extra serves of chocolate, are we doing them a favour? The complications of life are hurtling towards those sweet, open little faces.

Do we have a theory of a meaningful existence to give them to replace the ones – and I include lots of religions in this – we are perversely overlooking? If you’re gonna dump religion, what else have you got? Long weekends? Chocolate?

Either way life works out: reaping a windfall from, or being buried by, the random injustice of this world, both undermine your peace and give you no lasting sense of security.

But actually, fear not! Love and justice triumphed.

At Easter, Jesus conquered death.

Psalm 99

I’ve now realised these are called the ‘enthronement Psalms’. From 93-100.

There is speculation that the collection was used at the feast of the tabernacles, a festival where Jewish people gather and eat and/or sleep for a week in booths; tents, to celebrate harvest by mimicking the traditional sleeping arrangements for farmers, and to recall the exodus journey.

It was a joyous feast and these are certainly joyous Psalms.

This one mentions Gods rule over all nations, but mainly remembers some greats of Jewish history: Jacob, Moses, Aaron & Samuel.

I’ve been thinking a bit about Christian music recently. I had a conversation with a Swiss piano player guy about it last week at church, and he was airing old grievances about the narrow focus of so many modern songs.

To check that it wasn’t just prejudice talking, I analysed the top ten fave BBC hymns of praise, to represent traditional taste and stats of the top ten currently being sung in churches, to represent modern.

9 out of 10 of the modern group had god’s goodness/majesty as the subject matter, 5 of 10 the traditional songs were about living godly lives (eg: make me a channel of your peace) and generally a much wider range of subject matter and theme.

The Hillsong type songs are almost exclusively enthronement songs like these. And the limitations I’ve been pondering in both connect.

Gods reign is actually not that evident. The devil may have been dealt a decisive blow at Calvary but he’s still at large, evil is still in our world and in our hearts.

Jesus made it clear how to respond to this: ask for forgiveness, seek god’s kingdom.

In every one of these Psalms, god’s reign is exciting because it is one of rightness, justice and equity. Which is a clue about seeking Gods kingdom.

Also in most if not all – haven’t specifically checked – the world trembles or shakes.

The majesty is there in those modern songs, and the humbling thrill of personally experiencing god’s love.

Our role in living as citizens of God’s Kingdom by seeking justice and equity throughout the world? Not so much.

Psalm 98

This starts and ends a lot like Psalm 96. Ironic considering they both open with “sing a new song”. Well, I suppose every different song is a little bit new. But this is the good news, jubilation – both are new hope for a tired, tatty world.

It’s another vision of the grand kingly rule of God. Here the new song is sung in widening circles of response: Israel, all nations, all creation…

Which is also where 96 ended. Here are the seas, rivers and mountains celebrating the day of the judge who is right and fair – all the inanimate objects clapping, singing and resounding like an old merry melodies cartoon. You can almost hear the harp, trumpet and ram’s horn. And the singing, shouting for joy.

I plunged down into sadness again briefly yesterday, but wake up feeling buoyed by this joyous psalm. Plus it’s Saturday. Though I feel quite energised for next week at work too. Such a yo-yo at the moment!

My boss is going for 3 weeks leave traveling to see his daughter who is in Edinburgh. I’ll most likely never travel, which made me sad, even though it’s not ever been my ambition particularly. It would be nice, just with Kelly, some time before we die…

I suppose the weirdness of our family, still all living together with my oldest son now 26 and not close to independent fills me with frustration, self doubt, and a bit of dread for the future.

I don’t encourage people to be strong, somehow. I get fear that I somehow undermine people’s confidence. I’m passive and shy, and I feel I make people close to me that way. Not a born leader, you may say.

But those feelings have lessened again today, it all feels do-able again. And then you read this simple delight of God in control, his reign.

Clap your hands! Got a new song to sing!

Keen to spend an hour now getting on with my song about Job. It’s very unformed and risky, I’m deliberately keeping it abstract for a long time, just throwing out lots of unconnected musical and lyrical ideas. It will either be special or a mess!

Psalm 82

A strange setup, God on a council of Gods, comparing the way they judge.  The polytheistic language sparked intense speculation about what it was referring to, commentators went crazy.

Jesus quoted this psalm when he was accused of blasphemy.  He said essentially, if the scriptures can call these people gods – and it would probably have included some of those who were accusing him at that very time – how much moreso can I claim to be God.

The message of it is about the nature of God.

The earthly ‘gods’ have the wisdom, the word and authority of God, but they remain ignorant and corrupt. The ignorance of those in positions of power in human society shakes the foundations of the earth. Its hard not to relate to that, given we have some spectacularly bad world leaders at the moment.

God’s judgement defends the weak, fatherless; upholds the cause of the needy and oppressed; rescues them from the wicked.  That is the right use of authority.

These people are like the gods we have before we know God, they exercise the authority of God, but do it in a broken way.  The plea is for the one God above all to spread his authority across all nations.

I have little authority, so all I can do is pray and hope, and vote responsibly.

And do what I can. I’ve been messaged by some of my new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends about the Yarbun festival coming up to coincide with Australia day.  They are looking for support, they are still an oppressed minority in Australia, and I must address my response carefully and respectfully.

 

Psalm 75

Praising God’s judgement.

The psalm starts and ends with praise by the author Asaph. In the middle God is quoted speaking about his judgement.

The opening praise is of God’s name and his marvellous deeds. The closing praise is more precisely his character as a God who exalts the righteous but cuts off the horns – or the strength – of the wicked.

I was struck that God is described as provoking judgement and limiting it. Because he makes the earth and all its people quake, but he also holds its pillars firm.

God is in charge of the timing, he makes the appointment. We can’t force it.

God is in charge of the content of judgement: it’s a cup of spicy wine in his hand that no one anywhere can avoid draining to the last drop. A bitter process to be gone through for those who defy God.

It’s about God’s justice, he weakens the strong, cutting away their strength, and strengthens the weak. Not our sense of fairness though, it’s the affirmation of God’s rule and power.

What does it mean to embrace, to praise God’s judgement as this psalmist has?

A big part of it of delight at leaving every aspect of it to God. We don’t have to be concerned that in the long run everything will be fair and just. And we don’t have to make it happen.

We are allowed to see God’s hand in some real world situations where evil is bought low, and consequences play out, we can praise God for that.

At the same time, understand, in fact ultimately rejoice if we can, that the bits that don’t make immediate sense are in God’s hands.

I also plan to listen to the Spirit for moments to declare God’s judgement, all of it down to the last dreg. No holding back!

This psalm talks about it being a painful, disempowering, equalising process people will go though, which didn’t necessarily sound like it will always end in destruction for the arrogant to me.

Maybe I’ll have to drink a cup of it myself on occasion, to learn about my arrogance and defiance, I don’t know.

But certainly, if the timing is right for me to be part of the voices leading a defiant person to repentance, that is another thing I must trust God about, and be bold.

I sometimes get afraid because I’m over empathetic. I think ‘oh no, the truth about God as I understand it will break you’. And I hold back.

But it’s better to be broken before you die, if it’s your pride that is breaking, than leave our godless friends to risk the shrouded, unknown judgmental process that will occur after our years on earth are done.

Father, can I praise your fair, just judgement by being bold to mention it at the right times.

Job 42

Last chapter. Job has all his blessing restored.

Job understands that he had no idea what he was talking about when he cursed the day he was born and challenged God to make a case for how his suffering was fair.

God’s presence has given him perspective on his existence and confidence that he is loved by a wonderful powerful God who is right across the details of life.

He takes back what he said, repenting of his words.

It’s still one of the hardest things, putting your victim status on the altar, giving that to God. When he repents, Job is still destitute and covered with sores.

Feeling sorry for your self, poetically disillusioned, is one of the few benefits of things going wrong. But in that we aren’t to sin, it doesn’t give us a get out of jail free card to lash out or be indulgent or selfish.

Jobs acceptance of God’s sovereignty is a remarkable, Christ-like act, like when Jesus stays silent during his trial and death, or – is it in the garden? – when he says ‘not my will but yours father’

I recall a lecturer at uni whose parody of the stupidity of Christianity was ‘i don’t know, I just believe‘. It’s exactly what job is saying, you won’t know, you just have to believe.

We need to wear that with pride and resist the temptation to tie life up with neat moral lessons like an Aesop fable, or a woman’s weekly article.

That remains the friend’s error, trying to construct a fake, watered down Christianity, that makes more sense but cuts out what God is actually saying and doing.

I’ve run my reading of Job in parallel with comments about the things in life that worry me, that I hope will turn out right.

Am I bad at giving up control? I think a lot of human mischief comes from wanting to control more than we can. We justify selfishness and lack of empathy for our need to feel in control of life’s circumstances.

We can wish, hope and pray for things to be different. Jesus cried great sobs wishing he didn’t have to drink his cup of suffering. But he stayed focussed, he drank it as from God.

I was always uncomfortable with the blessing that is restored to job. New kids to replace those he lost. Though we know from life I suppose how that eases the pain of loss without diminishing the uniqueness of the ones who die.

And though we know why it’s fair that job gets back his health, wealth and family, he doesn’t. And because of what he has had revealed of God he doesn’t need to.

The Lord gives and takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord. His first reaction got tested, tortured, questioned but ultimately, he learned not to demand God’s blessing.

Job 27

I am not that guy.

Job’s final words to his friends cycle back to the point that more is needed.

Job agrees with all the terrible things his friends say will happen to those who defy God. Things like happened to him: lose the things they loved and be thrown from God’s presence. But he is not that guy.

He loves God and is assured of his acceptability to God – as we have been in the set up in chapter one. Job will never be convinced otherwise, as any believer would not.

So missing pieces are needed to fill in the picture of God’s justice, his love, his salvation.

After the raucous rally last night to gee up the salvation army someone said ‘but where is Jesus?’ Well he’s in there. The oft repeated vision I gladly signed up for is about ‘transforming Australia one life at a time with the love of Jesus’.

But there was also a fair degree of cultural tub thumping in the mix, and also a lot more talk of of justice and salvation. Stories of transformation from the lips of people around the nation, hitherto operating in parallel, now to be administered as one.

And it’s confronting when they announce they are releasing X million dollars to set up X number of new churches. Is that how God’s kingdom works?

The first evening session was quite self deprecating in a way: we partner, we fit in around others. Then yesterday was more ‘we’re going to win the church contest!’ Rah, rah’.

The Salvation army is a bit like a piece of performance art. There is an element of instinct, stuff just happens and the meaning gets unpacked in real time. A series of iterative actions rather than the result of long reflection. Not the way I’m accustomed to a church operating. Not saying it’s wrong necessarily, but makes me think.

Apt I think, to start talking about the search for God’s wisdom.

Job 1

I’ve been dreading job for some reason. I love the book, I love the wisdom and poetry section of the Bible in general, but it feels like a big commitment.

Anyway, chapter one is a great start, and well known.

It sets up the dispute in heaven between God and Satan, an oppositional angel: job is righteous and blameless, but is it only because God gave him great wealth and success?

So God lets Satan take away Job’s blessing, to see if he will curse God.

In a series of events he loses his children and wealth.

There’s much I could say, and will no doubt. But for now, my first impression is that it taps into everyone’s fear. You don’t have to lose everything to have survivor guilt.

I spent the weekend with a dear friend, single mum whose brilliant daughter, same age as my oldest so now in her 20s, had immune encephalitis. A headache one day, a lifetime of feeding her, toileting her, very high needs.

There but for the grace of God. The random injustice of the world hangs there for all of us.

That is the subject of our exploration.

I suppose the thing is I feel it’s not top priority for me at the moment. I feel I have a pretty good handle on the ‘why does god allow suffering’ question. It sounds terribly arrogant, but 40 chapters of ‘dense Hebrew poetry’ as it’s often described, on that subject, seems a bit boring to me. Lots of scratching not much itching.

But the spirit has led me safe thus far, I plan to read the whole scriptures, so lets see how it unfolds.

Starting a new week, feeling quite upbeat after a relaxing weekend. Big improvement over last week.

Psalm 58

Justice.

It’s a series of several Psalms to the tune ‘do not destroy’. Must have been super catchy. Maybe it’s the tune David thought of yesterday in 57 at dawn, hiding in a cave, when music came into his head.

The musician instructions call these psalms ‘miktam’s. Which one interpretation had as being scratched on the wall of a cave.

His theme is justice, and maybe this is the first time in life he really experienced the lack of it. He went from being a shepherd boy to living in the palace after he killed Goliath. Then king Saul went mad with jealousy, so he’s in a cave.

If firsthand up close injustice prompted the song, it’s only natural. You worry as you read it he is being vindictive and malicious, looking to rejoice in the downfall of his enemies.

He goes over the top revelling in vivid images of their declining effect on the world – like slugs that melt away, or like like stillborn babies.

But it is right to long for justice, it is the right channel for the passionate sense of unfairness the world around us inspires.

It is a prayer. Handing it over to God is the place for it.

It’s the right reason to hate someone, not because they are winning when you are losing, but because they are winning unfairly, by cheating, at the expense of others. It’s right to hate that.

It’s the right frame for action, to decide how to live your life. Compared to vindictiveness, fighting for justice leads away from your initial hurt, teaching you to think about the hurt of others. More likely to lead to a generous life in service of others.

It’s a convenient test for your means as well as your ends.

For instance, contemplating a watershed by-election yesterday, Kelly and i discussed the amazing self belief of politicians, who start to seriously believe they are the ones who deserve to have power, so much so that a little injustice in the compromises required to get it will be worth it in the long run – still better in their hands than the other bloke’s.

No! A journey along unfair paths to an imagined ‘fair’ destination is not a life lived fighting for justice, it becomes a life ever more devoted to power for its own sake. Malcom!

There is a super grisly moment of believers dipping their feet in the blood of evil doers, but we are to take it as an image of God’s victory, one they share in.. it comes back in Revelation, a robe dipped in blood, a winepress dripping blood. Doesn’t work for me at all, can’t get past bad horror movie images.

But when you experience the victory of Gods justice, you are allowed to enjoy it. Recognise where it came from, and that it moves outward, to others.