Psalm 51/A view of God
I was really struck this week, reading through Psalm 51-- reading through Plato and Sophocles lately-- with the contrast in the views of deity. I've always read the Psalm in the light of my own heart, but I was trying to think how this would impress me if I had never read the Bible before, and had only read the works of other men: what kind of impression I would get of David's God, stacked up against the others. It's very staggering--
Sophocles' deities are not just, whatever some of the people may believe, but frighteningly powerful. They commit outrages; they contradict one another; they are often presented as pitiless, as selfish and vain-- as out to get man. They demand sacrifice, and yet they despise the best that man has to offer. If you've done something wrong, even inadvertently-- too bad for you. There is no forgiveness with them, that they may inspire terror (but this is mitigated because they themselves aren't very upright). On the whole they seem to care very little for truth, for mankind, for anything more than a superficial, abitrary righteousness-- for anything outside themselves, and being themselves, that doesn't amount to much. Socrates' deity(s?) (my impressions may be off: I haven't read terribly far--) doesn't seem himself to be the embodiment of absolute ideals(?), but some kind of spiritual essence who loves the absolute good and hates the absolute evil, who rewards those who pursue eternal ideals, and punishes those who pursue material temporalities. Again, there is no atonement- the "good news" is that the standard can't be terribly high since men are capable of meeting it-- so Socrates' god can only be as righteous as men are self-righteous. But he seems a mostly vague figure: one can at best guess about him, and hope that the pursuit of wisdom will eventually be rewarded with further knowledge-- the deity himself being a sort of side dish? David's God bodies forth, right off the page, the ideals, and yet is a God who enters into relationships with men: He is just, and as Paul says, the justifier of them that believe in Him: He is merciful. He loves, not just the eternal verity, but the finite humanity. He delights in the good and hates the evil, but He loves the evildoer and makes him good. He breaks men with sorrow, and restores them to joy. He is decidedly for His people. He does not despise the broken heart, the contrite spirit: these are His sacrifices. David does not have to purge himself before approaching: he approaches to be purged: only then can he be truly clean. His God is a full, a personal, a present deity: there are so many contrasts in Him-- He must be in perfect balance-- the absolute embodiment of all truths at once: in Him, as this Psalm very fully displays, mercy and truth are met, righteousness and peace have kissed (I realised an interesting thing about balance, listening to Orthodoxy, and thinking about what Scott posted on the thread last week about the Psalms and the gospel-- that it's not in the middle of two extremes, but both extremes at the same time: Pascal says this is also "genius"-- so it is natural-- equal, and also supernatural: God our refuge, and "God the Dangerous"; perfect love and perfect hatred; the casting out of fear, and fear as the beginning of wisdom-- and so many other beautiful contrasts in Scripture that seem even more beautiful to me now: it would be unnatural if they were not there).
I don't see how people can read the Psalms and not be dumbfounded with David's God. --I don't see how we can. Do you think it's because we so often read the Bible to consume it on ourselves-- on our little needs-- not really to worship the God revealed there?
'I cannot live like Jesus, example though he be
For he was strong and selfless, and I am tied to me.
But I have asked my Jesus to live his life in me . . .
Behold his warm, his tangible, his dear humanity.' -Betty Stam