Overflowing Psalm

My house has flooded a few times.  We are lower than our neighbors so significant downpours have come in the back door or over the foundation several times.  The word “overflowing” is not necessarily a pleasant one to me.  Yet, Psalm 104’s overflowing is beautiful and exuberant.  Psalms can overflow with  theological claims, natural observations and points of connections to the rest of scripture.  All of these are found in Psalm 104.

Theological Claims:
First, the central claim of the Psalm is that the Lord is the creator and sustainer of all that is.  It is especially concerned with the creation and sustenance of life.  The God of scripture, in contrast to mythology present in the Ancient Near East, is presented as a God who forms creation with order, wisdom, and grace.  The Babylonian creation myth known as Enuma Elish talks about creation as the remains of Tiamat who have a conflict with Marduk–the supreme god for the Babylonian pantheon.   In the Gilgamesh Epic--another Mesopotamian creation myth, humanity comes from a lover’s quarrel.  In Atrahasis, an Akkadian epic, people are created to serve the needs of a lazy group of gods.  The language of the biblical creation narrative in Genesis 1-3 draws on these Ancient Near Eastern texts.  However, the Biblical God is (a) singular–Judaism and Christianity and Islam are monotheistic; (b) benevolent as Psalm 104 affirms God is good; (c) compassionate.  Notice how God is described as the One who gives grass to the cattle, trees for the birds, crags for the badgers (“coneys”), prey for the lions and work for humanity.

Another important theological claim of Psalm 104 is that God creates through God’s Spirit.  The Nicene creed speaks of the Holy Spirit as the giver of life (Psalm 104:30).

Natural Observations
Second, natural observations abound in Psalm 104.  The Psalm observes the movement of water to the lower places, the way oil makes faces shine, the habitations of birds and animals, the relationship of the moon to seasonal.  The Psalmist presents creation as a varied and dynamic context through which God’s praise rings out.

Scripture References
Finally, Psalm 104 connects to other passages of scripture.  The openings and closing (Psalm 104:1 and Psalm 104:35) connect to the preceding hymn’s opening and closing (Psalm 103:1 and Psalm 103:22).  Psalm 104:5-9 suggests the experience of the flood in the Noah story–especially compare Psalm 104:9 with Genesis 9:15.  The affirmation that God made the world “in wisdom” (Psalm 104:24) relates to Proverbs 8:22-31 where wisdom is personified in a female character through whom God creates.  Finally, the closing petition, “May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord” (Psalm 104:34) resembles the closing to Psalm 19–also a creation Psalm–“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

In Psalm 104 these overlapping theological claims, observations and connections to other biblical material are not set forth in an orderly treatise.  Rather they flow–much like the water that runs through the Psalm itself.  They swirl and blend and turn.  It’s a beautiful reminder that in our own faith and thought ideas are not as simply divided into categories as we might sometimes wish for them to be.  The swirl together.


Use Words

St. Francis may not have ever said something that’s been attributed to him for years.  “Preach the Gospel always, use words when necessary” has been attributed to him for years, but it turns out he didn’t say it.  People frequently have quotations attributed to them that they did not say.  The sentiment of the quotation, however, is great.  It reminds Christians that words without deeds are not believable.  Witness without work is not believable.    And Christians who get nervous about talking about their faith have been leaning on it for a long time to give cover to our silence about our faith.  We often overlook the converse statement.

Yes, words without deeds are not believable; but deeds without words are not intelligible.  Work without witness can be interpreted as anything.  Frequently work without witness is interpreted as a message about the worker rather than a message about the master.  She is such a kind person; he is so generous; that church is always doing good things.  Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  It’s that last part–about glorifying God–that gets lost when we do not clearly identify our work as being motivated by our Savior’s love, instruction or model.

One value of a Creed is that a creed gives us language to use.  When a person decides to become a Christian, what are they agreeing to?  The Creeds serve the  function of providing wording to use to guide our witness. And this transmission of a creed-like statement as part of a person’s witness is biblical. The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) a creed-like statement from the Hebrew Bible contains the following instruction, “Recite them [the words the Lord was giving them] to your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7). And Paul  wrote to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12).  Matthew 28:16-20 emphasized the role of the church in “making Disciples” and “baptizing in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” All of these statements emphasize a verbal testimony to which people ascent as part of their choice to follow Christ.  It’s one of the place where words are necessary.  And, I believe, it is here that our words are sadly lacking.