David’s Bildungsroman part 4

So David makes an interesting statement in the sixteenth Psalm. He says in the first half of the eighth verse that he had “set God always before [his] face”. This, I think, is the ultimate lesson of life. Seeing God at the forefront of everything: all our actions, all our interactions, all our motions, all our emotions. Everything under the sun. I’d venture to say it’s a conscious decision that David made to see God “before his face”. And because we can’t see God with our eyeballs, he’s speaking metaphorically about, not only an ideological understanding of God’s thoughts as model for his own, but choosing to be like God after knowing Him. Paul says in Ephesians (5:1) to be “followers of God as dear children”. The connotation of “followers” from Greek is “imitators”. And this kind of imitation is not flattery. In order to be like God, you have to start by thinking like God. God saw this about David. Sure, He made David and gave him his unique gifts and talents, but if David had not responded to God, then God couldn’t have used him like He wanted.

The story of David, with all its ups and downs, plays out brilliantly and beautifully. One person among millions–rising to the pinnacle. I especially like that he was both warrior and poet. Musician and soldier. Sojourner and ruler. A life of seeming contradictions where grace and strength, art and power, were alloyed into one man’s temperament, and ultimately shaped the national identity of Israel. A little country among giants at the crossroads of civilization. I’d have to say that David was the first of the Philosopher-Kings. His son Solomon fits the description as well. Let’s back up to the seeds of such revolutionary realizations.

If you think that power and prestige were the ultimate goal of his life and psyche, consider this declaration of his (Psalm 27:4): “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.”

Take it or leave it. David had an intense thirst for God. An insatiable appetite for His love and grace and understanding. And so he was willing to wait. Unless God somehow told David–prior to Samuel showing up to anoint him king–that He was going to coronate him and call him to rule Israel, there was absolutely no way David could have known. Imagine the shock and surprise of being told that, in spite of your humble beginnings, you were called to make some outrageous Nobel-prizewinning discovery? Or make a work of art that would change national and international perception of art as a concept? Or in some way become an iconoclast who’s far more than merely a cult of personality? What would you do if you found out you were headed for the top? Would you “set God always before your face” as David did? Here’s the deal: this is what God wants for you, for me, for everyone. And the world is big enough for you to be the best there is at who you are. That’s one step above being the best there is at what you do. Being the absolute, superlative epitome of yourself is where God is aiming. We can’t be Jesus. But we can be as like Him as humanly possible. One thing I reflect on occasionally is the realization that, were I the only person God ever made, He would’ve asked Jesus to die for me to redeem me (as would inevitably be required) and Jesus would’ve joyfully complied. He would have obeyed His Father to reunite us–even if it were just us. Just you and God. This is one of the great secrets of life: God loves you. And His love is all-encompassing to the point that you can feel (Without pride, is that possible? Yes.) that God did all this for you.

David’s life is a perfect template for us. And also a roadmap for getting there. Jesus is walking with us and as we “set Him always before [our] face” He will show us that He is “at our right hand that we should not be moved” (That’s the second half of Psalm 16:8.). He’ll see to it that we get there.

David’s Bildungsroman part 3

The Psalms aren’t presented in chronological order. It makes me wonder how the canonizers determined the order in which we find them. The entire Bible (sixty-six books) for that matter is not presented in historical, chronological order either. I’ve heard that Psalm 118, being the center chapter in the Bible is sandwiched between the shortest (117) and the longest (119). Interesting. I haven’t measured it out myself but I have read elsewhere that that’s not even true. Psalm 131, they say is the central chapter. Anyways. As I haven’t measured it out for myself, I suppose it doesn’t matter.

I am going to touch on some of the high points of David’s Psalms. Whereas Bob Dylan has written over 600 songs, David only wrote about a hundred (that we have, recorded). You gotta know that, with the spiritual and symbolic nature of much of Dylan’s music, he had to have been inspired by David.

And that’s what the Psalms are. Hymns to God of praise and worship and thanksgiving and lamentation and distress. David covers the whole spectrum of human emotion through his music. The fact that we have it to draw upon for our own life is a miracle. A lifeline to the same God that David knew. One good thing about the placement of the book itself is that it’s right in the center of the Bible. It’s easy to find, just open up to the middle.

Here are a few Psalms as touchstones for the stages of life.

Psalm 23: David had to have written this while he was young and tending sheep. He sees God as his own shepherd, caring for him as he did his own sheep (or his father’s, whichever). This simple prayer–much like the Lord’s Prayer from the NT–expresses a life thoroughly steeped in God’s presence. From beginning to end. And beyond.

Psalm 19: I can see this one having come from the pasture (pasture-ized?) as well. David expresses the awe and wonder of God as Creator. I imagine a young boy, sitting back in the grass, the wind rustling his hair. Gazing up at the stars in the sky. Who knows how old he was when he wrote this. He’s at least aware of life’s inner workings enough to know of the importance of God’s word and the benefit of keeping it and trusting in Him through it. He also understands the fine points of analogy and allusion. What a kid!

See also Psalm 104–Pure poetry.

Psalm 25: One of my all-time favorites (along with Psalm 40). Many of his psalms were written in the caves and wilderness areas of Israel while he was on the run from a demented–and deposed–King Saul. God may have anointed David King of Israel as a child, but he didn’t end up taking the throne until later in life. Saul pursued David and his men through the desert and much of David’s adult character was forged through that time of trial. The harsh backdrop of sand and heat providing a fitting metaphor for the spiritual dryseason David went through on the inside. I’m reminded of a verse from Hebrews (5:8): “Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” That’s talking about Jesus but it could certainly refer to David as well. God called David and made him king though it wasn’t realized until many years and sorrows later. The joy of such a blessing was tempered, and in many ways substantiated, by the troubles he experienced. This cycle of wilderness exploration–to put it politely–is holy. This cycle is sacrosanct before God. If it’s good enough for Jesus and good enough for David–two men who know God far better than do I–then it’s good enough for me.

Psalm 37: David is getting older. He expresses as much in verse 25. He’s now old enough to know–with a certainty that only comes with age–that God will never “leave him or forsake him”, as he expressed in Psalm 27 (verse 9) and was answered in Hebrews (13:5-6).

God blessed David throughout his life–in spite of his mistakes–because he practiced what he preached and was willing to admit and atone for his mistakes. This is human perfection.

On another note, I suppose the reason we have both mistakes and successes recorded in the Bible is to learn from them. This is an obvious statement and fully in accord with the understanding that God “forgets” our sin. “Their sin and iniquity will I remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). “As far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12) is how far God has removed our sin from us through Jesus. But in remembering sin, we’d do well to remember this fact too: unless the lessons are learned, history will repeat itself. The feeling of guilt and condemnation never comes from God–conviction, yes. But not shame or guilt devoid of hope.

Jesus made it possible for us to see our sins and shortcomings in light of His love and as such, complete amnesty is offered to anyone willing to come to Him. He’ll teach us. He says He will.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matthew 11:29).

David’s Bildungsroman part 2

Psalm 78:70 says that God chose David from the sheepfolds.

David was the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons. With red hair and apparently a handsome kid (see 1 Samuel 16:12), he tended the sheep on his dad’s pasture. The strength and courage needed to kill Goliath had been developed through the years protecting them from lions and tigers and bears. Oh my. Okay, not really tigers, but he does say he killed the other two in protecting his flock (see 1 Samuel 16:35; the story of David and Goliath takes place in chapter 17). Jesus does that. He says He’ll leave the “ninety and nine”  to go after the one stray, lost sheep (Luke 15:4).

Life doesn’t necessarily contain many life or death moments–that is unless you’re a soldier (or a Marine) or police officer or firefighter. At least not in our “civilized” western world. Making these hard decisions is far less frequent than, say, in feudal Japan under a shogunate (where slight mistakes are atoned for by ritual and assisted suicide) or among the Yanomamo tribe of South America. The Yanomamo are excruciatingly violent toward, not just neighboring tribes, but also their own members. Point is, violent force is not necessary in today’s world to get our point across. In defending our loved ones however, I believe it can be necessary. With Goliath however, diplomacy was already out of the question. The other Israelites were content to lie down and let the Philistines encroach. But I believe the real reason David decided to go and fight Goliath was because he “def[ied] the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:26). I’m reminded of “Beat It” by Michael Jackson. David’s the exception to that song. The rest is history. And now we have the perfect metaphor for dealing with the problems of our own lives that not only seem, seem huge and insurmountable, steadily creeping and seeping into our life, but that no one else wants to face. Goliath stood on the other side of the battlefield and taunted the Israelites. Empty threats as far as David was concerned.

Before I go any further, if you’re having an issue with this story, as far as its solution (i.e. the slaying and decapitation of Goliath, 17:51) may I plead the rule of cultural relativism? One corollary of cultural relativism says that it’s wrong to judge other cultures with the morality of our own. That may have pulled the story from the sea of subjectivity only to have it cast again into the deep end, but it was indeed a different time and place.

Consider this verse from Isaiah: (40:11) “He (God) shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”

The pastoral vocation was common in the Middle East during that time. Still is. David tended sheep because he was the youngest. Probably because no one else wanted to do it, too. This verse in Isaiah describes the character of God as kind, gentle, caring, concerned. God is like this all the time. Even when we don’t feel it. Even when we think that He’s just the opposite or not even real at all. One question I have for you is, with the unique spiritual problems you’re facing, do you think that God might choose you to be the one to deal with them, once-and-for-all? If so, have at it! If we have the courage to believe that God is as this verse describes–even when the devil shouts at us and fear and shame and discouragement begin to press in–then we are believing what is true. And God will prove Himself to be the best that we believe. Conversely, if we choose not to believe, God isn’t necessarily obligated to reveal Himself to you. If you know anyone like that, pray for ’em.

So, what are the huge crises that are worrying you? (financial, physical, familial…?) This takes real effort, but choose, will to believe that God is bigger and that He has a way out of this suffering. Paul said as much. “God will also make a way of escape so that you’ll be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). He was referring to temptation but don’t you think that David was tempted to run from Goliath? Maybe not. Maybe through the years of his shepherding routine, he developed the resolve that stood up and in the face of the audacity of Goliath. Resolve to remain faithful through the slow downtimes of your life and you’ll be slaying giants before you know it.

Jesus says to “say unto this mountain…” (Mark 11:23). See what happens in verse 24.

God bless you!

David’s Bildungsroman part 1

Psalm 27 is a wonderful expression by David of complete confidence in God. He sees God as parent (verse 10), as provider (4), as strength (1) and refuge (5).

The life of David is somewhat of an enigma to me. I’ll explain. David lived before Jesus in a time when anyone who was Jewish was expected—commanded—to live under the law of Moses. A strict regiment of outward proofs of inward allegiance. Yet David exhibited something deeper and more profound. Namely, the grace of God. And he communicated through the Psalms an understanding of Him that was light years ahead of his peers. That’s not to say that he was without his flaws but in my opinion that’s neither here nor there. To a degree, it doesn’t make sense to me why the positive lessons inherent in the character of the biblical characters need always be tempered with the negative. Yes we need lessons in what to do and what not to do, but a person’s sin and shortcomings are never mentioned in their eulogy. If one feels the need to tack on mention of David’s sins to every lesson from his life, why don’t they deal with their own instead? Some Christians naively dismiss their own while condemning him. And the cycle will repeat itself in others with whom they come into contact with. I have a whole book entitled THE SINS OF KING DAVID. Okay, the title’s not in all caps but it may as well be. The cover sports a renaissance painting of David lecherously luring Bathsheba into adultery. How hypocritical. As an aside, this is why anyone who dies who we think may not have been Christian should still be treated with respect and honor as creations of God. The best of someone should still be believed.

I suppose the reason David experienced God in this way throughout his life is because he did just that. He believed the best of God through all of the times in which circumstances might dictate God’s character as something other than what David encountered as a child while tending sheep and composing hymns in the pasture.

When I consciously met God at 17, life became beautiful and wondrous and full of exciting encounters with Him in unexpected places. But it also lacked the stability and temperance and wisdom of a life that had stuck with God when things were hard. We can’t live on the mountaintop all the time. Yet there are pastures on mountains and in the valleys. Anywhere we are–high or low–we can sing to God.

A bildungsroman is a story (usually fiction, in this case non) detailing the spiritual development of its main character. Asaph wrote of David in Psalm 78 (verses 70-72):

“He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So He fed them according to the integrity of His heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.”

Over the next few days, I’m going to flesh out this passage and see how it applies to the ups and downs that we all face in some way shape or form—for today.