Does it not make your head spin? The unbearable incongruity, the unbridgeable gap. Between for example, Second Samuel (the career of King David) and the Psalms (Psalms of David, the tradition calls the whole collection, or many of them). Read all the strife and killing: Abner, Absalom, Amasa (not much fazed the Sunday School ladies, but I don’t recall their ever putting this gory tale up on the flannelgraph), the execution of the sons of Rizpah, and her mourning. Then read a sublime Psalm like this one. Some psalms reflect the violence—though more often from the side of the victim than from the side of the perpetrator. But then moments like this. Like a lightning flash out of a blank-dark sky. Suddenly, if only for a moment, clarity of vision: there is the natural world in its powerful beauty—and behold the majesty of its founder, and of its founder’s decrees. Can we see it? Sometimes? For an instant? And then—back to the conflict, the killing, the ruination. How long?
And again, sorry, but those taught in a certain way will understand: how is it possible to read stories like Amasa’s and Rizpah’s, for example, and come away thinking that a necessary, or important, or intelligent, or even minimally intelligible thing to say about them is that they are “inerrant”? And again: I don’t think the people who bang on about the Bible in such terms have ever read it. Not really. It comes down to our level, and spills itself open, is disemboweled before us like poor Amasa on that Judean road, and we see and are amazed and abashed and recognize that in the dreadful spectacle before us we are seeing the truth about ourselves, and we grasp desperately at any traces of grace, and wonder what is to become of us, and who will save us from this mess. And they, with their “high view of scripture” gaze at a an unopened leatherbound volume soaring above us all in the sky and compete with each other to say the loftiest things about it, and issue fatwas against those who decline to play that pious game.
The Lord is “robed in majesty,” yes, and high and lifted up, but the scripture he has given us: it is given through our own mouths, and portrays our own plight, is right down here on the ground with us, in the mud and the blood and the gore, even while through its pages flash Spirit-powered visions of the better, the higher, the beyond, and in its latter pages appears a strange character, one like unto a child of humanity, a different David, who shows how to reread those “sure decrees,” how to talk to the storm, how to silence the demons, how to overthrow hatred and death by dying lovingly, and being raised to new life.
1 The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty;Psalm 93, NRSV
the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.
2 Your throne was established long ago;
you are from all eternity.
3 The seas have lifted up, LORD,
the seas have lifted up their voice;
the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.
4 Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea—
the LORD on high is mighty.
5 Your statutes, LORD, stand firm;
holiness adorns your house
for endless days.