Archive for May 2012

Eden in the Psalter

May 11th, 2012 — 4:53pm

Quite some time ago, I expressed an intention to write a series of posts on the structure of the Psalter. That never came to fruition due to . . . well, small preoccupations like planting a church. But I noticed something new today that’s worth commenting on; and maybe one day I’ll situate it within a larger treatment of the structural features.

Book 2 of the Psalter opens with eight Psalms written by the sons of Korah. I had not noticed until today how heavily these Psalms draw from the imagery and themes of Genesis 1–3. For example, Psalm 42 begins with a corporate panting after God, who is described as a “flowing stream” (vv. 1–2) and the source of many waters (v. 7). The psalmist feels displaced from fellowship with this life-giving God, a theme that resonates deeply with the displacement of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, when they were thrust out from the stream-fed garden of Eden and the presence of the Lord.

In Psalm 43, the psalmist prays that God’s light and truth will go forth and lead him back to the “holy hill” of the Lord, to His “dwelling” (v. 3). Again this echoes the imagery of Eden as a garden on a hill, from which water flowed down into the lands below (Genesis 2:10–14).

Psalm 44 is a variation on the theme of displacement: here the anguish of God’s people is expressed in terms of rejection and disgrace (v. 9), such that their belly cleaves to the dust (v. 25) – they have been reduced to the place and posture of the accursed serpent in Genesis 3:14!

Psalm 45 is a dramatic shift, offering praise to a mysterious kingly figure who is described as “the most handsome of the sons of men” (v. 2), and at whose right hand stands a lovely queen in gold of Ophir (v. 9). It is especially noteworthy that this Adamic figure is destined to rule over all the earth through princely sons (v. 16), and that the nations will praise him forever (v. 17). This calls to mind the downriver mission of Adam and his seed, hinted at in Genesis 2:10–14.

The king has been mentioned in Psalm 45. A royal city is now mentioned in Psalm 46: a fearless city, untroubled by the roaring waters that sometimes assault her, because she is fed by the river of God Himself (v. 4). God is in the midst of her; she will not be moved (v. 5). She need not fear the nations around her, because her God rules over them all. In time He will be exalted among the nations; He will rule in all the earth (v. 10).

Psalm 47 takes up the celebration of the worldwide reign of God: He is “a great King over all the earth” (v. 2). He will subdue peoples and nations under the feet of His chosen who live in the royal city (v. 3), because He “reigns over the nations” (v. 8).

Psalm 48 turns an admiring gaze upon this lovely city, which sits on God’s “holy mountain” like Eden of old (v. 1). Kings stand in fear as they look upon her, for God is fearsome in her midst (vv. 4–8). The praise of her King now “reaches to the ends of the earth” (v. 10); and to look on her is to know the glory of God, who will be her guide even to the end (vv. 12–14).

In Psalm 49, the sons of Korah turn away from the holy city to offer a word of wisdom to “all peoples,” to “all inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor together” (vv. 1–2): “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish” (v. 12). All his vainglory notwithstanding, he is under the curse of God, and to dust he will return. But God will ransom His people from the power of Sheol; He will “receive” them (v. 15) back into His own presence, His temple, His holy city, His everlasting kingdom. For them, the gate of Eden has been opened once again, and the nations do well to consider it.

Comment » | Exegetical Fragments

More on space and time

May 11th, 2012 — 11:56am

“Eden is to created space what the Sabbath is to the [created] time rhythm.” (Arie C. Leder, “Christian Worship in Consecrated Space and Time,” in Calvin Theological Journal 32 [1997], p. 254)

Comment » | Exegetical Fragments

How to raise unbelieving children

May 9th, 2012 — 6:04pm

There are two ways to raise unbelieving children. One is to tell them, in ways subtle and not-so-subtle, that God doesn’t love them. The other is to make it clear, in ways subtle and not-so-subtle. that God made a mistake in giving them to you.

Comment » | Hearth and Home

Quite upset

May 9th, 2012 — 4:25pm

“It is clear that those who support Christian universities would be quite upset if the qualifier came to mean that the education students received might put them at a disadvantage for being a success in America.” (Stanley Hauerwas)

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

What happens to readers

May 9th, 2012 — 1:43pm

“Consider what happens to people whose night skies are spangled with constellations like The Master of Hestviken, or Moby-Dick, or The Brothers Karamazov. These people are hard to fool. They are also hard to enlist in pursuit of the trivial and ephemeral. It is as if we had given them a powerful telescope atop a high mountain, and shown them how to use it, and directed their attention to the Orion nebula, and once they had learned to do so and to love the beauty they found there, expected them to look at light bulbs on a marquee. Or, if not a telescope, a magical device for seeing deep into the human heart; and then expected them to watch American Idol, or to be impressed by the maunderings of the latest political hack.” (Esolen, Ten Ways, p. 100)

Comment » | Of Books and Beer

Outliers and grumblers

May 9th, 2012 — 9:05am

It’s remarkable how the Christians least invested in the life of the local church will often be the biggest critics of its lack of energy; and how those most churlish and disgruntled will cry loudest about its lack of love.

Seems like this comes up a few times in the Bible. . . .

Comment » | Pastoral Pondering

People, place, or programs

May 8th, 2012 — 11:11am

Churchgoers who lack the patient commitment required to cultivate lifetime bonds with their people and place tend to prefer the endless buzz of pseudo-community in hip church programs and activities.

Comment » | Pastoral Pondering

Place-making and spirituality

May 5th, 2012 — 3:08pm

“The best writers on place speak of the need for attentiveness, familiarity, silence, slowness, stability, repetition, particularity, hope, respect, love. These are all characteristics and the fruit of Christian spirituality, but rare in our speed-driven, consumerist Western culture. If placemaking is part of our journey out into the world, then it needs to be funded by a deep journey in – engagement with God, engagement with ourselves, and engagement with one another.

“In the Western church in which so many pastors have exchanged their calling for that of shopkeepers, ecclesial life often fails to nurture the inner journey fundamental to placemaking, and even where it does, congregational life must be complemented by personal spirituality. And place plays an important part in personal spirituality as well as spirituality providing the attentiveness requisite for placemaking.” (Bartholomew, Where Mortals Dwell, pp. 320–21)

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

Place-making and mission

May 5th, 2012 — 11:53am

Working on this week’s sermon in Genesis 2:4–9, I’ve been exploring the importance in scripture of place and place-making. One fairly obvious objection to the idea that God’s people should be rooted to place – that they should be planted trees, lovers of the local, self-consciously embracing not only embodiment but also emplacement – is that our Lord had no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20). Jesus was a wanderer; isn’t this a pattern for us to follow? Shouldn’t we be ready and willing to leave any place at any moment and follow Him we know not where?

I think a careful look through the Bible will reveal that its call to gospel adventure and its call to domestic stability are ultimately not at odds. The kingdom of God on earth embraces both a missional impulse and a cultural impulse. The kingdom seeks globally, and it settles locally. It advances militantly (albeit not with carnal weapons) even as it calls and commands its citizens to occupy, to cultivate, to build, to lead a peaceful and quiet life as saints in a particular place.

The work of Jesus and His apostles was predominantly missional, but they affirmed the cultural life of those to whom they ministered (e.g., by staying so often in homes, attending weddings, enjoying meals, etc.); indeed, they commanded that the structures of cultural life be honored (e.g., the marriage bed, parent-child relations, king-subject relations, lawful vocation, etc.). Their missional work was for the purpose of settling churches to be salt and light in their local places.

Some Christians today are gifted for, and called to, predominantly missional labors; they are the vanguard of the kingdom, so to speak. Most of us who follow Jesus, however, are gifted and called to be the cultural laborers of the kingdom: to live and learn, love and laugh, be faithful and raise up faithful generations, all in a local context. It’s important not to pit one of these against the other; both lie within the bounds of true discipleship.

Comment » | Exegetical Fragments

Permeating presence

May 3rd, 2012 — 12:46pm

“Just as the presence of the Holy One among the Israelites was to permeate every aspect of their lives, so now this is how it is to be throughout the creation, as groups of followers live the life of the kingdom in their particular places.” (Craig G. Bartholomew, Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today, p. 117)

Comment » | Moses and Christ

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