Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Not a Cliche

Sometimes the bible seems really cliche to me. I can't help it, I've been a Christian my whole life- I have a lifetime of experience in Christian culture with people always reciting the popular bible verses, putting them up against a pastel background on a powerpoint slide, cross-stitching them into pillows...

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And I'm sorry but it gets old and kind of meaningless.

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If anyone could explain how the flowers relate to any of these verses, I would be most grateful. Image source.
All these encouraging verses, ripped from their context, presented as a simple answer to the world's problems. Just putting a good face on stuff as if we're always TOTALLY FINE AND HAPPY when we're Christians.

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(Though I must admit, I really do like a lot of the above images and verses...)

So I read Psalm 57 and yeah, a lot of these verses, I've heard them before. "Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth," and so on. And my first response (though I'd probably keep it to myself) would be "blah blah blah yeah I've heard that before"- IF I hadn't read the entire psalm.

Because dude, Psalm 57 talks about some scary stuff! "I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts- men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords."

Yikes. Let's see that one pasted onto a photo of a majestic waterfall. Let's use that as the theme verse for our women's conference. Deck it out in pastels and flowers. And we can have the little kids in Sunday School draw lions. Perfect.

Psalm 57 is so odd- it has these 2 seemingly unconnected themes running through it. First, David being in incredible danger from these "lions," his enemies, and he's crying out to God for help. And second, abundant praise and love for God.

What is the connection? Well I guess the connection is that God saved him, so then he praises God? I guess? To me, reading this psalm, they just appear to be completely separate ideas, set there next to each other.

Basically, out of his distress and danger, he was able to say, "My heart, O God, is steadfast," and worship God with so much adoration. And wow, I love that. THAT is authentic. THAT is not a cliche. That is NOT just saying nice things to pretend that there are no problems in the world- no, David was suffering and yet he still praised God.

Wowwwww. Context is everything. A few more examples:

Ever hear the verse, "I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth"? Ah, that's nice, my redeemer lives, obviously we're talking about Jesus, yada yada yada.

Wait, this is Job 19:25? Job? As in, the guy who lost everything he had, and all his kids died, and then his "friends" were like "well obviously this is your fault for being a sinner"? And in Job 19, Job accuses God of doing all this to him...
“Though I cry, ‘Violence!’ I get no response;
    though I call for help, there is no justice.
He has blocked my way so I cannot pass;
    he has shrouded my paths in darkness.
He has stripped me of my honor
    and removed the crown from my head.
He tears me down on every side till I am gone;
    he uproots my hope like a tree.
His anger burns against me;
    he counts me among his enemies.
His troops advance in force;
    they build a siege ramp against me
    and encamp around my tent.
He has alienated my family from me;
    my acquaintances are completely estranged from me.
My relatives have gone away;
    my closest friends have forgotten me.
My guests and my female servants count me a foreigner;
    they look on me as on a stranger.
I summon my servant, but he does not answer,
    though I beg him with my own mouth.
My breath is offensive to my wife;
    I am loathsome to my own family.
Even the little boys scorn me;
    when I appear, they ridicule me.
All my intimate friends detest me;
    those I love have turned against me.
I am nothing but skin and bones;
    I have escaped only by the skin of my teeth."
(Let's cross-stitch some of those on pillows. And you guys, there's a lot more where that came from. Seriously let's get working on those pillows.)

And then, right near the end of the chapter: "I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth." Wow, that verse means something different now, doesn't it?

And have you heard those verses from Philippians? Things like "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" and "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Did you know Paul was IN JAIL when he wrote Philippians?

Jail. JAIL! Image source.
Dude. Dude. When we read the bible, we have to see the good and the bad- or else it comes across like all those Christian cliches which deny the existence of suffering, imply that Christians should hide their problems, and give pat non-answers to those who are hurting.

And wow, Psalm 57 does this really well. The extremes of the good and the bad. "Be exalted, O God, above the heavens," and "I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts."

As I said in The Bible Is Less Naive Than Me:
I thought the bible presented a naive religion that couldn't handle anybody asking questions about God letting evil things happen. I thought it promised puppies and rainbows and had nothing to say about sickness and tragedy. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The church NEEDS to talk about pain and suffering, because pain and suffering are real.

The church NEEDS to overflow with worship in response God's love and faithfulness, because God's love and faithfulness are real.

The church NEEDS to fight injustice in this world, because the injustice in this world is real.

The church NEEDS to believe in the goodness of God, because the goodness of God is real.

And it is that goodness that will win in the end. God's love and justice will transform this world so there will be no more pain. (Can I get an amen?)

And as we look forward to that, as we join Jesus in his mission to change the world, let's be honest about the good and the bad. Just like Psalm 57.


This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 57. To read other people's posts, click here: Breakthrough, A Reflection on Psalm 57.


  1. This is what I love about The Message -- everything is in new language, so I'm not able to skim anything going, "Yeah, heard this a hundred times."

    I'm reading through the psalms right now in The Message and it's amazing how repetitious it is. "God, why have you abandoned me to my enemies?" "God saved me!" "Everyone praise God!" "God, save me from my enemies!" "God, why have you abandoned me?" and so on for 150 psalms.

  2. This is a really good point. I got a new bible last year- which is actually 2 bibles together- ESV and Chinese- and it's really cool to read stuff worded a little differently than I've always read it (I always read NIV before). Or worded A LOT differently in the case of the Chinese one. :)

  3. The pillows and floral pictures made me laugh...at them and at myself because it can be such an easy trap to fall into, yes?

    What I loved most about this Psalm, is that it seemed to give me permission...permission to say "this sucks" at the same time giving praise. It felt so freeing to me!