Poetry and Violence (originally posted in November 2012)
Psalm 3. A Psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.
LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, "God will not deliver him."
But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from His holy mountain.
I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.
Arise, LORD! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.
From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be upon your people.In all the years I've been in a relationship with the Bible, I've often turned to the Psalms for comfort. The words are so beautifully put together, and some so familiar that when I read them, it's like coming across an old friend.
I lift my eyes up to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121)
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23)
I waited patiently for the LORD, he inclined and heard my cry. (Psalm 40)
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91)
and this one:
you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.Arguably, some of the most beautiful poetry ever written is contained in the Psalms.
But as anyone who has read them knows, the Psalms are not just a collection of beautiful words. They are a collection of the words of David. Sometimes I get frustrated by all that David in the text.
(Seriously, David, I'm trying to get some comfort here, trying to read some beautiful old words and you have to come along and ruin my morning with your violent Tony Soprano fantasies.)
What I used to do was just ignore the parts I didn't like, or just employ a little snark to balance them out. I had no use for them; I have no enemies whose heads I wish to dash against a rock.
Of course, he was a man of his time, with his own cultural constraints. If someone was chasing me down I'd probably be praying for some protection too.
I've been looking for the humanity in the Bible, and it's opened up a new richness in the text that I didn't see before. Now, I appreciate seeing all that David in the text. It's the human condition--we are capable of such beauty, such poetry....and also such violence and anger.
David spent so much of his time fleeing from people. He grew up in the country, tending sheep and writing songs, and was thrust into the public eye at a young age. He loved God and wanted to please Him, but messed up over and over. I look at his story and wonder if he missed the simplicity of his early days. I wonder, in his later years, how often he picked up the harp.
The lesson here for me is this: we're all David. Living in different times, with different ways of solving problems, but with the same fundamental problems of the human heart. Poetry and violence all mixed together, longing for communion with God.
The Bible is so much more interesting with the humanity left in. Maddening too, just as my own humanity is to me at times.