Thread: Why doesn't this bother me? Board: Oblivion / Ship of Fools.

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Posted by Lamb Chopped (# 5528) on :
Somebody explain myself to me. Yesterday we had the following passage (Psalm 91):


He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

Now, on the face of it, this psalm (and plenty of other Bible passages) appears to be saying, "Because you belong to the Lord, you will always be protected from all harm. Nothing bad will happen to you--spiritual, health, whatever, it's all good. Peace and safety, no problemo." Which we all know to be false--faith is not a guarantee of a trouble-free life, and Jesus himself testifies to that. In fact, this very Psalm contradicts the obvious reading of it when you get to the last verses and God says, "I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him." That only makes sense if the believer is ALREADY in trouble.

What I want to ask is, what is going on with the apparent contradiction? And more specifically, why doesn't it bother me or the other Christians around me?

On some emotional/spiritual level I seem to be all right with it--only my intellect is troubled. And the church as a whole seems to function the same way, cheerfully including it in the liturgy, etc. and similar passages. Okay, fine. But I can't flush out of the shadows just WHY this isn't bugging us more.* What is the hidden unity that makes it work?

* and yes, I've considered the possibility that I may be an idiot. [Big Grin]
Posted by mark_in_manchester (# 15978) on :
I will say to the Lord
I have no classical languages to get into that 'will' and understand if it means future tense, or just implies intention - but either way, the passage reads to me like a guy (me? perhaps I'm just reading this from where I'm coming from) who is already in the shit, girding himself up for the pain to come, and declaring to himself and anyone else listening 'f*ck it, let's do it'. He knows he may fall, but somehow he knows that even if he does, God is there, the fight is right, and even if it kills him, God (and good) will prevail. So it doesn't read 'yah boo, I'm safe' to me - it reads 'I'm stuffed, so hold those promises tight because as the bullets hit, it's going to help a lot'.

just my 2p.

[ 06. July 2014, 19:48: Message edited by: mark_in_manchester ]
Posted by Raptor Eye (# 16649) on :
It's the message of Christ: the 'what can humankind do to me, when I've got God on my side' message, the one that says that all manner of things shall be well. We've accepted it, we know that Jesus rose again on the third day, that God will bring good out from every dark corner, that Christ is with us through whatever pain we endure - he was there first.

It's comforting, it spells out God's closeness and warms our heart, and the poetic language brings it home.
Posted by Hart (# 4991) on :
For me, lines like "He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler" are very comforting. God will deliver us from every evil. Sometimes, we're not delivered even from death, but we are delivered, if necessary, through death.

As close as evil may seem to come to us, it won't cut us to the core, because God's there.
Posted by Latchkey Kid (# 12444) on :
Perhaps yours isn't a Kerygmania question.

Sometimes I can feel like that, at other times it doesn't connect to me at all. Sometimes I feel more like "How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land."

In pastoral/spiritual care situations with someone who is down the naive and those lacking in wisdom will parrot these and make them into platitudes, not knowing the damage they are doing.

[ 06. July 2014, 23:13: Message edited by: Latchkey Kid ]
Posted by W Hyatt (# 14250) on :
Originally posted by Lamb Chopped:
What is the hidden unity that makes it work?

One possibility is that since God can't describe the way God works from God's point of view in a way that we can understand, he arranged for people to describe how he works from their limited perspective, which changes with different situations and with different mental states. And the author's perspective could even change between the beginning of a Psalm and the end, which could lead to apparent contradictions within a single Psalm.
Posted by Pooks (# 11425) on :
Hi, LC. I can't speak for you, but personally, I think of Psalms as an expression of faith or worship by the writers. Therefore it doesn't require me, the reader, to have the same experiences or same level of faith on par with the writer in order for it to be valid. I think the purpose of the Psalms in general is to encourage, inspire or as an expression of worship, (although it doesn't preclude a bit of a moan now and then as well,) so I read with those references in mind. But you are asking a deeper Kerygmaniac question: 'What is the hidden unity that makes it work?' 'Inspiration' would be my not very Kerygmaniac answer. Sorry I can't provide any Biblical bases for my answer, though.
Posted by daisymay (# 1480) on :
And I've always enjoyed reading and singing the Psalms - always in Scottish kirks. I don't get bothered about the psalms.
Posted by Lamb Chopped (# 5528) on :
What inspired the question is sitting next to my very argumentative and occasionally literal-minded 13yo, and Just.Knowing. he was going to ask me to explain the apparent contradiction. And I can't. Because the whole Christian church, and I myself, cheerfully go on singing/reading these psalms in worship for lo, these 2000 years, meanwhile experiencing persecution and sickness and poverty and God knows what else, which to outsiders would make us look like idiots--except that I too can sense that deeper unity that brings such texts and Christian experience together without contradiction. I just can't verbalize it, can't get a handle on it sufficiently to explain why this works.

I've heard people in the past go down the "it's all meant to be spiritual really" line, but that doesn't work. I've seen plenty of cases of God's physical intervention, even a couple miraculous.

I've also heard the word "gnomic" bandied around, but am not quite sure what is meant by that in this context. Maybe someone here knows?

As for my son--thanks be to God, he got interested in something ELSE in the readings and I didn't have to answer by flapping my mouth like a fish and saying, "I dunno, I can feel that it works but I can't explain it." But I'd like to understand for my own sake--and with my mind, not just my gut.
Posted by churchgeek (# 5557) on :
I don't see the contradiction, though. From almost the outset, the Psalm is talking about snares and pestilences. The troubles are all around the Psalmist. Perhaps to "deliver" someone from a snare means to prevent them from falling into it in the first place, but I think it could also mean get them unstuck once they've fallen in.

There's probably a bit of hyperbole. Often, when we come through something difficult, especially if we're grateful for someone's help, we initially downplay the bad parts and play up the help we received. We might mention the troubles, but don't catalogue our sufferings, 'cause we're thinking about how we were helped out of them. That might be what's behind this Psalm, or at least part of it. If it were written after the Psalmist was "delivered" out of some trouble, then it makes a lot of sense that he would speak the way he does. It's written on a bit of an emotional high, perhaps. And that's as valid a feeling to bring to God in prayer as all the other feelings we bring!

Just keep in mind that soon enough you'll be reading/chanting/singing a Psalm of lament, and wanting to say, "Come on, it's not that bad. You're being paranoid!" [Biased]
Posted by LucyP (# 10476) on :
My take on this is that psalms are songs/poetry, not a succession of propositional truths. Much reality is too complex for simple statements to apply universally.

Some proverbs play with this tension directly :

Proverbs 24:4-5: Do not answer a fool according to his folly or you will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly or he will be wise in his own eyes.

In proverbs, it's up to the reader to think through the implications of each possible action, and apply a given proverb with wisdom according to the situation encountered.

Songs often focus on one aspect of reality, and may help shape that reality. A group of protestors sings "We shall overcome one day". It's quite possible that they won't overcome, but there are times when the group needs to focus on the big picture and feel grandly confident together. Another day they might sing a song focussing on smaller changes, like "from little things, big things grow."

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego may have known Psalm 91 when they said "Our God is able to save us....but even if he does not...." The first statement is consistent with the message of psalm 91; the second statement might seem to suggest a wavering faith. I think the second statement takes even more courage and stronger faith to make than the first one, but the strength that empowers a person to say "but even if he does not, we will not bow down to you, o king" comes from their absolute conviction of the truth of " our God is able to save us". And that conviction is fed by singing, reading, memorising, or meditating on songs like psalm 91.

So I think that Psalm 91 is a tool to be applied. It is useful for (1) teaching us what God can do and (2) encouraging and inspiring us when we feel our situation is more than we can handle. I think it would be abused if someone applied it (3) to rebuke others for their lack of faith if things hadn't gone well for them, or (4) as a mantra to chant mindlessly instead of seriously thinking about alternatives when thought is required.

[ 11. July 2014, 04:31: Message edited by: LucyP ]
Posted by StevHep (# 17198) on :
You might, if you wish to respond to a literally minded person, say that the psalm is a prophecy which applies to the Messiah.

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