Sometimes the Bible is confusing.
Can we admit that more often?
So much time in the Christian world is spent explaining meanings. Making points. Tying strings together. We talk and write and preach about how much we know and how much we see and how much we can learn.
I love that stuff, to be honest. In fact, I subscribe to podcasts so I can listen to more than one sermon a week. Seriously.
But can we stop pretending that we always understand? Can we be vulnerable enough to admit that sometimes we read the Bible and we don’t get it?
I don’t get Psalm 41.
I have a seminary degree. I work at a church. I have been studying the Psalms for over a year. Yet still, my response to Psalm 41 is, “Hmmm… whatchya doin’ there, God?”
Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor! The Lord rescues them when they are in trouble. The Lord protects them and keeps them alive. He gives them prosperity in the land and rescues them from their enemies. The Lord nurses them when they are sick and restores them to health. –Psalm 41:1-3
All I can think is, “But what about the times God doesn’t?” There are many people who have dedicated their existence to helping the poor whose lives have been difficult as a direct result of that choice.
There are things that were true for ancient Israel that are not true for us today. God made a covenant with them: He was their God and they were His people. Attached to that covenantal relationship were rules, which were connected to promises. If Israel ran itself with the grace and justice in line with God’s character, God committed to bless them in return.
So, perhaps this kind of clear correlation between action and blessing makes sense in that time. But then, what do we do with it now?
I’m not exactly sure.
Jesus asks us to help the poor, but He also tells us we will be persecuted for our faith in Him. The promise is now of God’s presence, not of God’s blessing. Surely, that presence is a wonderful thing, but sometimes I wish actions, consequences, and rewards would be a little more linear.
The Psalm then goes from a section I don’t know how to apply to a section I don’t know how to understand.
David talks of an illness he had and how his enemies gloated over him. What does that have to do with verses 1-3? I don’t see the connection.
Also included in that lament is a wish that God would make David well again, so that David could pay his enemies back.
Again, this request has an appropriateness because David is the king of God’s covenant nation. Therefore, an attack on the king is therefore an attack on God. This means there were different operating orders than Jesus’ command to us to love our enemies.
But that still leaves the question: what do we do with verses like this today?
I don’t know.
And that is okay. It is okay to read the Bible and come away with the answer, “I don’t know.”
The Bible is not a map. The Bible is not a rulebook. The Bible is a story.
It is the story of a vibrant and powerful God filled with compassion for a broken and hurting humanity. It is a story of creation and sin and commitment and rescue. Of purpose and hope ushered in with a Love made flesh. It is a beautiful and amazing and deep and true story.
I cannot expect that any verse I choose from any part of that Story will have a perfect correlation and application to my life today. That is a selfish perspective on God’s Word. These verses are part of something much grander than my individual life.
When I read the Bible, even if I find the pieces confusing or frustrating, that does not change the power of the whole.
So, my conclusion today is that I don’t understand Psalm 41. And I am okay with that.
Walk through the Psalms is a series working its way through the book of Psalms, one Psalm a week, one post a week, in order. It is grounded in the belief that as Psalms swirl through prayers of pain and praise, they paint a portrait of a life of faith. And, as with any walk, it is better with company; all are welcome to join. To learn more, read this.
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