lindbeck“Human experience is shaped, molded, and in a sense constituted by cultural and linguistic forms.  There are numberless thoughts we cannot think, sentiments we cannot have, and realities we cannot perceive unless we learn to use the appropriate symbol systems.  It seems, as the cases of Helen Keller and of supposed wolf children vividly illustrate, that unless we acquire language of some kind, we cannot actualize our specifically human capacities for thought, action, and feeling.  Similarly, so the argument goes, to become religious involves becoming skilled in the language, the symbol system of a given religion.  To become a Christian involves learning the story of Israel and of Jesus well enough to interpret and experience oneself and one’s world in its terms.” (George A. LindbeckThe Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, p. 34)

ellendavis“Like the laments, this psalm of praise ends with anticipation.  God’s praise is sung in the middle of history, by those who are still looking for God’s covenant love to be fully manifest in every aspect of their lives…The tension [is] present to some degree, at least, in all prayer.  For people who pray are people living in hope.  Biblical tradition associates prayer with hope more consistently than with satisfaction…From a biblical perspective, hope may be best imagined as a line suspended between past experience of God’s reliability and a future that is still open, a line stretched taut between the reliability and the freedom of Israel’s God.  That accounts for the note of keen anticipation so characteristic of the Psalms.  Yet even as Israel waits upon God, the psalmist urges the righteous to sing joyfully.  And in that call to rejoice lies a profound understanding of worship.  We cannot defer praising God until we are fully satisfied with our situation.” (Ellen F. Davis, Getting Involved With God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, pp. 37-38)

ellendavis“‘To the straightforward, praise is becoming’ (33:1)–this might be the core insight from which all the psalms of praise proceed.  Praise is more than something we do for God…Praise looks good on the straightforward, on those who aspire to look at the world realistically, unsentimentally–that is, those who aspire not to look at the world through the distorting lens of their own fantastic desires.  In other words, praise suits those who want to see the world as it really is.  This is a crucial insight about the essential function of praise.  Praising God is not concocted flattery, but the most earnest human business we can undertake.  Ultimately, it is for the sake of the world: we praise God in order to see the world as God does.” (Ellen F. Davis, Getting Involved With God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, p. 34)

ellendavis“When you lament in good faith, opening yourself to God honestly and fully—no matter what you have to say—then you are beginning to clear the way for praise.  You are straining toward the time when God will turn your tears into laughter.  When you lament, you are asking God to create the conditions in which it will become possible for you to offer praise…Israel knows itself as a people that has been put on the planet—and much more than that, preserved alive and kept in faith against incredible odds—for the express purpose of praising God.  So even when Israel is lamenting, it is always looking for opportunities to praise. The lament psalms are prayers of anguish yearning to be anguished into praise..So lament is always hoping to grow into praise; when it does, it does not forget where it came from.” (Ellen F. Davis, Getting Involved With God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, p. 15, 30)

mcconville“The destination of the journey is praise itself.  The point emerges forcefully from the climactic final five psalms, 146-50.  Here the ‘I’ speaker virtually disappears from view, yet is inevitably present in the words and acts of praise.  The ‘narrative’ of the Psalms, with all its particularities of Israel’s life, runs out in the unbridled praise of these ‘Hallelujah’ psalms.  Lament has been left behind here, in ringing notes that seem timeless and pure.  A human voice speaks out of a kind of heavenly vision, having joined the heavenly praise.

Yet the speaker is not airbrushed.  It is the same voice that we have encountered everywhere in the Psalms, in great joys and deep sorrows, the voice that cannot be quite identified with any figure, but who somehow encapsulates the full range of Israel’s—and ordinary human—experience.  This ‘I’ is simply the human being in God’s world.  It is the bookend echo of the Psalter’s opening: ‘Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked’ (Ps. 1:1).  By this stage we have seen something of what that might mean.  The ‘endless Hallelujah’ that Psalms 146-50 open onto is uttered by one who has endured all that a human being can endure, but has become wise, and now, as none other than adam, leads the creation in praise.  It is this voice, possessed by the praise of God, that may be said, in the end, to answer that other psalmist’s question (Ps. 8:4): ‘What is the human being, that you should pay attention to them?’” (J. Gordon McConville, Being Human in God’s World: An Old Testament Theology of Humanity, pp. 201-02)

The Search

moviegoer“I may as well stop thinking about her.  Then it is that the idea of the search occurs to me.  I become absorbed and for a minute or so forget about the girl.  What is the nature of the search? you ask.  Really it is very simple, at least for a fellow like me; so simple that it is easily overlooked.

The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.  This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island.  And what does such a castaway do?  Why, he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn’t miss a trick.

To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something.  Not to be onto something is to be in despair.  The movies are onto the search, but they screw it up.  The search always ends in despair.  They like to show a fellow coming to himself in a strange place–but what does he do?  He takes up with the local librarian, sets about proving to the local children what a nice fellow he is, and settles down with a vengeance.  In two weeks time he is so sunk in everydayness that he might just as well be dead.

What do you seek–God? you ask with a smile.  I hesitate to answer, since all other Americans have settled the matter for themselves and to give such an answer would amount to setting myself a goal which everyone else has reached–and therefore raising a question in which no one has the slightest interest.  Who wants to be dead last among one hundred and eighty million Americans?  For, as everyone knows, the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics–which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker.” (Walker Percy, The Moviegoer)


What About Our Wounds?

lament“‘By his wounds we are healed.’  In the wounds of Christ is humanity’s healing.

Do our wounds also heal?  This gaping wound in my chest–does it heal?  What before I did not see, I now see; what before I did not feel, I now feel.  But this raw bleeding cavity which needs so much healing, does it heal while waiting for healing?  We are the body of Christ on earth.  Does that mean that some of our wounds are his wounds, and that some of our wounds heal?

Is our suffering ever redemptive?…How?  To whom? Is there something more to say than that death is the mortal enemy of peace?  Can suffering over death–not living at peace with death but suffering in the face of death–bring peace?…

Suffering may do us good–may be a blessing, something to be thankful for.  This I have learned…Suffering is the shout of ‘No’ by one’s whole existence to that over which one suffers–the shout of ‘No’ by nerves and gut and gland and heart to pain, to death, to injustice, to depression, to hunger, to humiliation, to bondage, to abandonment.  And sometimes, when the cry is intense, there emerges a radiance which elsewhere seldom appears: a glow of courage, of love, of insight, of selflessness, of faith.  In that radiance we see best what humanity was meant to be.

That the radiance which emerges from acquaintance with grief is a blessing to others is familiar, though perplexing: How can we treasure the radiance while struggling against what brought it about?  How can we thank God for suffering’s yield while asking for its removal?…In the valley of suffering, despair and bitterness are brewed.  But there also character is made.  The valley of suffering is the vale of soul-making.

But now things slip and slide around.  How do I tell my blessings?  For what do I give thanks and for what do I lament?  Am I sometimes to sorrow over my delight and sometimes to delight over my sorrow?  And how do I sustain my ‘No’ to my son’s early death while accepting with gratitude the opportunity offered of becoming what otherwise I could never be?

How do I receive my suffering as blessing while repulsing the obscene thought that God jiggled the mountain to make me better?” (Nicholas WolterstorffLament for a Son, pp. 94-97)