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Proper 10B Psalm

James Runcorn

When speaking of God comes as naturally as speaking of the wind or the rain, as habitually as naming the months of the year or the great and noble wars of one’s homeland, as obligatorily as adhering to traffic laws or table etiquette, reading a passage like Psalm 24 creates no serious confusion. But for those who can no longer easily salute the God, say, of the political speeches and military recruitment literature of Western Civilization, this Psalm may give one pause. And yet, it speaks with care—even to those alienated from the mainstream West—in order to speak truly. It is as if it were no less aware than the most ardent 21st century cynic of the propensity of religious/spiritual people to lie, i.e., when they speak the word “God.”

It is crucially important to notice that this chapter of this biblical book is written not like a weather report or the minutes of a meeting, but as poetry, the kind of poetry that might be recited in the gathering for worship of particularly vulnerable people, people who know that life is hard. The God spoken of here is not the logically compelling punch line of a linear sequence of propositions. This is neither the God of Process Theism nor of Classical Theism. The God spoken of here is the God spoken to, the God prayed to, the God sung to by the head and gut of those who repent, intercede, lament, petition, give thanks, and praise in extreme vulnerability. The God of this psalm is the God in whom hopeless people hope.

Of course, the God of this song is announced with great energy as almighty. Indeed, the might of the God of this chapter is without equal, unlimited, boundless. But as is true everywhere in the holy scriptures, this declaration of the might of “the King of Glory” remains entangled in the struggles of people who are never far from the ground from which they have come and to which they will return. These are people who do not doubt the power of God. They in fact have nowhere else to turn. To doubt “the Lord of Host,” “the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle,” would be to shrivel and die, like the grass of the field that doubted the sun. Self-reliant and independent people are not people of this God, not even when they are “evangelized” to “heaven” by the rhetorically enhanced night terror of “hell.”

To know this God is not first to trust the faith of our fathers, mothers, and grandparents nor the conclusions of carefully sustained neutral inquiry nor the impulses of one’s deep intuitions and from them to conclude that there must be a god. To know the God of this passage of scripture is to turn Godward, in prayer. This psalm is not a kind of extrapolation of encouraging observations (such as victory in battle or a good raise), though such observations may be entailed. This psalm is itself an act of knowing God. Not before, but during the singing of this psalm—with body, soul, and spirit—a gathered people perform an intimacy with God that is greater than what we customarily refer to as “knowledge.” That is, no one first comes to know God and then praise God. One knows God only and always as an act of prayer and most earth-shakingly in doxology.

Professor,

Azusa Pacific University

About the Contributor

Craig Keen

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