Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Poetry of Hope

Poetic speech allows us to see irony at work, even in the midst of something threatening or tragic. It's not that seeing the irony makes the tragedy go away - that's too simple. But, seeing the irony, even in a tragedy, even under threatening circumstances, somehow allows us to re-frame it and might even give us hope in something beyond the tragedy.

For example, in the 2nd Psalm, look at how the psalmist names the conspiracy among the nations against God's people:

Why do the nations conspire,

   and the peoples plot in vain? 
The kings of the earth set themselves,
   and the rulers take counsel together,
   against the Lord and his anointed, saying, 
‘Let us burst their bonds asunder,
   and cast their cords from us.’ 

When the "kings of the earth" and "the rulers" conspire to "burst the bonds" and "cast the cords" away, it sounds as though the psalmist's people are large-scale oppressors and have learned that the oppressed are orchestrating a rebellion against them. That seems odd, because I really do not know of any time when Israel was an "empire," in that respect. 

I don't think the psalmist is speaking about a rebellion against Israel's empire, but is expressing that feeling that many individuals, peoples, and even nations have when it seems that "all the world is out to get us." That seems to be how the Apostle Peter heard this psalm when he was praying one day after having been threatened for preaching in Jesus' name. He quoted Psalm 2 and prayed, "For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed." (Acts 4:27). 

In other words, this psalm is a poetic way that one speaks of feeling threatened. And yet, there is something about it that goes beyond just the conspiracy and the threat of violence. That is because the next few verses re-frame the conspiracy as a vain attempt. Hear the psalmist:  

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
   the Lord has them in derision. 
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
   and terrify them in his fury, saying, 
‘I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.’

 The one who sits in the heavens laughs at the silly plan. But, this is no simple laughing matter. It is a derisive laughter, a laughter that is quickly followed by furious anger because the conspiracy is more than simply "politics by another means" (to quote van Clausewitz' description of making war), it is a rebellion against God's own anointed. 

So, the conspiracy is not framed as a real threat, an international coup, or a threat against the psalmists existence. Because the one who sits in the heavens laughs, the conspiracy turns out to be an empty piece of imaginative fiction. It may be threatening, they may indeed act on their conspiratorial anger - no one doubts the lengths to which conspirators might go. But, there is more to the situation than even the sneaking conspirators know.  Perhaps that is why Peter was able to witness the death of Jesus, hear threats against his own life, and still pray this way: "And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness." God laughs. And when God laughs, things change. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you want to leave a comment using only your name, please click the name/url option. I don't believe you have to sign in or anything like that by using that option. You may also use the 'anonymous' option if you want. Just be nice.

Blog Archive