“The Lord merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born.” Psalm 33:6
“Were I to count [your thoughts], they would outnumber the grains of sand.” Psalm 139:18a
“You are radiant with light, more majestic than mountains rich with game.” Psalm 76:4
The Book of Psalms is made up of 150 psalms (essentially poems) written by several people, including David, the greatest king of Israel in Old Testament times. As Christians, there is so, so much that we can get out of the psalms on a huge variety of issues. I cannot do justice to the whole book in this short post, but I do want to look at something the psalms demonstrate quite clearly: a method of humans expressing their thoughts about God.
The psalms are not chapters in a textbook; they are sections in a guide or manual of any sort. The psalms are poems – an art form. For some people, this may make them tedious, but for me, that makes them even more appealing! As I’ve said before on this blog, if something in the Bible is clearly a poem, you should not try to read it as anything else. The first verse, at the top of this post, refers to the creation of the universe, essentially, a poetic rendition of parts of Genesis 1. This verse demonstrates that God is the creator of the heavens/stars and that it was the power of his word that brought them into being. When I read that, I don’t start speculating on the specific circumstances in which the stars came about, I think ‘Wow, God’s pretty powerful!’
Notice that all three of the verses I’ve copied out use clear imagery to create an effect. In the first verse, the psalmist conveys a sense of God’s power by relating how easily God created the vast expanse that we see in the night sky. In the second verse, the psalmist compare God’s thoughts to grains of sand, something that Israelites in the Near East would have been all too familiar with. This comparison attempts to convey something of the complexity of God’s mind, because in Israel, the idea of counting grains of sands would have been preposterous. The image still works for people like me who live in England now; just imagine going to the beach and trying to count all the grains of sand in a stretch of beach just 100m long! The final image is my favourite of the three, combining radiance with majesty. The first part of the verse is straightforward, using all of the obvious connotations of light such as purity and the destruction of darkness that ancient Jews would have been familiar with, whilst the second part compares God favourably to the strongest, most impressive natural structure that can be found on the Earth: a mountain. The image is better than that though, instead of just saying that God is more majestic than a mountain (which is pretty majestic on its own) the psalmist is saying that God is more majestic than a mountain that’s full of food! It’s a pretty awe-inspiring image and the psalmists were courageous in trying to show the world how they saw their God/
So where am I going with all this? I think that all Christians can learn something from the psalms, whether we’re artistically inclined or not. The psalms, I think, are a great encouragement to us to express our views of God in whatever way we’re comfortable with. The psalmists are not afraid of crying out to God in their pain or asking him questions when they’re struggling to understand him; this is not a book full of happy poems. I think that it’s important that Christians feel able to express their view of God through their own lens and to use those expressions to help each other get to know God better. Let’s face it, we have to acknowledge that no human can ever fully understand God, but we can understand parts of God. For me, it’s easy to come to grips with the warrior God of discipline, strength and power, whereas the loving, merciful side of God is harder for me to understand. If someone who sees things the other way to me, sees the mercy and the love more than the strength and discipline, is not willing to express their view of God, how would I ever acknowledge it? I don’t think that I’d have a very healthy relationship with God if there weren’t people around to keep reminding me of his love and mercy. Conversely, I don’t think it’s healthy for people to only think about God’s love and mercy and have no notion of his discipline. If there weren’t people like me around who are more at ease with that side of God, then I think those other people would also suffer in their relationships with him.
In the psalms, we have all this and more. We can learn from the psalmists and be comfortable in making our relationship with God public, in expressing our views of him and in not being ashamed of the times when we’ve asked questions of him. We’re humans, not gods, and while we’re living like this we cannot know God in his entirety. What we can do is walk with other humans throughout our lives and be open about God and our relationships with him; we can help each other understand difficult issues and we can engage in dialogue so that as a united, Christian body, we can combine those different facets of God that we all see and start to appreciate the true majesty of our Lord. No one will know him fully on this Earth, but we can strive to know him more, and through our words and views, we can encourage each other to persevere and grow in our relationships with God.