Archive for ‘Behavior’

Longing for Security: The Psalms in Our Worship 37

by   |  08.30.11  |  Behavior, Bible, God with us, Prayer

In our own times of turmoil (what times aren’t?), the need for security seems acute.  Without security, there can be no creativity, no nurturing, no healing.  But where do we obtain security?  Remember Henry Kissinger’s line, “Each success only buys a ticket to a more difficult problem.”  That seems to be true.  True security is elusive, and it does not come in this life in an ultimate sense.

Still, is it not possible to be secure even in the midst of the storm of history?  The composer of Psalm 46 thought so.  This little psalm of trust, part of the collection of the Korahite guild of psalm singers, expresses unqualified confidence in Elohim, “our refuge and strength.”  God becomes a sort of fortress for the singer, replacing all other possible sources of security, even if those sources might be employed by God.  If you’re like me, and a bit tired of religious people being society’s most vocal critics and naysayers (and conflating their faith with a sort of crude social Darwinism), the hopefulness of this psalm offers an antidote to cynicism and self-indulgent criticism of others.  “We will not fear” amid earthquake (the psalmist uses the metaphor of the moving earth to symbolize the pain of social and even psychic upheaval that human beings may face).  This is so because of the existence of the “river that makes Elohim’s city [Jerusalem, presumably] rejoice.”

The contrast of two ecological forces, earthquake and river, which in other texts may both symbolize God’s mighty power, here serves a slightly different purpose.  The reference to the river, which does not exist on any map (no rivers in Jerusalem!) but does exist in the mental maps of ancient peoples as a feature of the Garden of God, allows the psalmist to compare Jerusalem to Eden.  God, the psalmist says, provides a level of security for the righteous comparable to that experienced by the first humans in Paradise.  That’s the metaphor in play in the middle of this psalm.

Of course, the psalmist (and all the rest of us) can look at Jerusalem or any other place on Planet Earth and recognize immediately that we do not literally live in Paradise.  Anyone who imagines that we live in the best of all possible worlds clearly has a shortage of imagination!  Still….  The psalmist believes that there is a sense in which God’s presence will lead to the cessation of warfare, the breaking of weapons.  When that happens, anyone who is paying attention will hear the divine revelation, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  God’s mighty deeds of peacemaking lead to an awareness of God’s true nature, and thus our own.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were secure enough to believe all that?  Maybe someday….

Of Cabbages and Kings: The Psalms in Our Worship 32

by   |  05.31.11  |  Behavior, Bible, Prayer, Theology

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

It’s interesting how things converge in your brain.  Impressions, ideas, and reflections on both stream through seeking to stick together before something else roots them out.   Yesterday, I spent time working on a survey instrument for David Miller of Princeton University, who is a leader of the “faith at work” movement, an attempt to help men and women have more integrated lives.  See his website at http://www.princeton.edu/faithandwork.

Then comes today’s self-appointed assignment, to reflect on Psalm 40,  a thanksgiving hymn praising God for an integrated life.  What have these two assignments in common?  A lot, as it turns out.

The psalm has two basic parts: verses 1-11 (Hebrew 2-12) are a straightforward hymn of thanksgiving expressing trust and hope in God, and verses 12-17 (Hebrew 13-18) step backward to the time before God’s salvation and thus offer a retrospective petition, a flashback so to speak.  Yet the two parts connect closely to each other, because salvation is never far away from the one seeking it from God, and the memory of trouble is never far away even from the most secure of us.  Life, after all, hits us in this great stream of impressions, ideas, and reflections on both.

How, according to this psalm, does one praise God rightly?  One way to answer the question is to track the verbs used for the psalmist and for God.  The psalmist trusts, stands in awe, and invites others to do the same.  God, meanwhile, turns to the pray-er, listens, lifts out of the clay pit, sets feet on firm ground, and puts a new song (the psalm itself!) in one’s mouth.  The active God makes it possible for the formerly passive, overborne human to become active again and to resume a communal role.

Another way to track the pursuit of integration is to follow the structure of the psalm, which seems loose at first, but proves to be comprehensive in scope.  The thanksgiving turns in verse 4 (Hebrew 5) to benediction: “blessed is anybody whose refuge/place of trust is Yhwh.”  It then moves back to direct address to God, praising the Almighty for doing miracles (nifla’ot are often associated with the events of the exodus, though the concept is wider — the term means less suspension of the laws of nature, than simply actions that reorder the human world so that the righteous prosper as they should).  The psalmist then considers, and rejects or at least relativizes, an alternative form of praise, namely, sacrifice.  Yhwh does not need sacrifice.  Words are enough when they bear fruit in life.  Words and deeds, divine and human, all fit together somehow.

Among the most interesting lines are those in verses 7-8 (Hebrew 8-9): “Then I said, ‘Indeed I have come.  In the book it is written about me to do what pleases you, O God.  This is what I delight in.  So your law is in my inner being’.”  The lining out of the verses is a bit unclear, or rather, debatable, here, but you get the drift.  Many commentators associate the scroll in which the psalmist reads with the one written for the king in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, and thus argue that the psalm as a whole is a royal psalm.  This thesis is possible, though far from certain.  It seems also possible to think of the psalm as fairly late and thus as a specimen of a type of piety that emphasized the importance of the Law of Moses.  There is nothing obviously kingly about the psalmist (in contrast to the case with a number of other psalms), though we cannot rule out the possibility that we are supposed to imagine here a king delivered from national trials.

However you slice it, the ideal narrator of the psalm is someone who has experienced tragedy and deliverance and is now grateful for it.  He (or she) has found an integrated life rather than one divided up into little pockets in which faith has no bearing on anything else or vice versa.

In times of stress such as ours, we need this psalm.  Whatever my objective experience, it is easy to find life’s problems, to highlight disappointments, and to underscore tragedies.    But this little poem describes someone who found another way by the simple expedient of trusting God and seeking guidance from Torah.  What a concept!  It is this extraordinary willingness to make a commitment that marks the person of faith off from the rest of the human race.  Without such trust, we have no hope.  With it, many things are possible.

Can Theology Be This Fun?

by   |  06.10.10  |  Behavior, Christianity, Society, Theology, Video, Worship

“We believe that the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better is by making it fun to do.”

Russ Kirby
Director of Student Services
ACU Graduate School of Theology
http://www.twitter.com/acugst
http://www.facebook.com/acugst

The Relevance of the Bible for Life Today: Justice

by   |  03.09.10  |  Behavior, Bible, Church, Justice, Power, Theology, Wealth

What is justice? How can we be more just people, and a more just church? These questions seem acute in our time, as American Christians have access to unprecedented wealth and power while so many of our brothers and sisters sometimes lack even daily bread. As this new series of podcasts tries to show, the Bible offers a profound and eminently workable approach to changing our own lives — our attitudes, behaviors, values, and desires — so as to become more just people. I hope you enjoy this series and welcome your comments or questions.

Dr. Mark W. Hamilton
Associate Professor of Old Testament and
Associate Dean
ACU Graduate School of Theology
Abilene, TX 79699
Editor, The Transforming Word