After I have experienced the call of God through the Word of God to go into ministry, I joined the ministerial training and pursued my theology. The first year of my theological education was quite tough on me, for I was exposed to the historical and critical methods of doing theology and getting to learn the history & politics of how the books of the Bible became a canon, they were hard nuts to crack. Five of us who were studying first year of theology, in our conversations with our senior student friends expressed our discomfort of learning the hard facts and even shared we might quit doing theology any further, for our faith was shaken. They tried to counsel us, asking us to be strong. This news of five first year theology students planning to quit their theological education became the talk of our college, and we were summoned by our Principal immediately to discuss this matter with him. The Principal invited five of us into his home for an evening tea and listened to our fears and doubts of doing theology. All five of us expressed how those first few months of exposure to theology have shaken our faith. After giving a patient listen to all five of us, our Principal said to us, “If by listening to things that we did not want to listen to, our faith is shaken, then our faith isn’t faith.” He further said, “Ok fine, you can quit theology and go back home because you are learning some hard facts of history here, however, if your faith keeps shaking on hearing some hard facts, then your faith is not grounded firmly, for it is wobbly and it will keep shaking as you encounter difficult situations in life. Be open to God’s revelations, ask God to strengthen your faith and allow God to work through each of you.” He sent us all back to our hostel by offering a prayer to us. We all spent time in prayer, and waited on God to open our hearts and eyes for God’s ongoing revelations. Such a call to be open to God’s revelations changed the course of our faith journey and theological journey, for all five of us, rather than quitting theology, we eventually went on to do our masters in theology and spent about six years learning theology. During this journey, God’s revelations came to us in various ways, which include through theology, through context, through experience, through reason, through the Word, through friends, through art, through films, through songs, through nature, through community etc. God in God’s graciousness offers God’s revelations only to demonstrate that God is dynamic, and ever since I realised such strength in the revelation of God, I began to look for God’s revelation at all places and at all life situations.
Psalm 19, the prescribed Psalm for this third Sunday in Lent, is a Psalm that records the dynamism of God’s revelation as experienced and understood by David. As we are aware, the Psalms were compiled during the post-exilic period expressing the language of lament, doubt, despair, hope, repentance, confession, praise and thanksgiving. Psalm 19 served to offer hope about God’s revelation to God’s people. On their return from exile as they were reconstructing their faith, tradition, history, this particular Psalm served as a directional Psalm to understand and celebrate the revelation of God’s glory. God’s revelation is dynamic, diverse and diligent, is the message that this Psalm offers. In contrast to what me and my four friends in the first year of our theology course thought that God’s revelation is mono-directional, the Psalmist in this Psalm explains God’s revelation happens multi-directionally, and in this instance offers at least two ways of understanding God’s revelation. Allow me to share the two kinds of God’s revelations from this Psalm, so that it opens up to recognise the strength in God’s revelations.
1. The wordless God’s revelation (1-6v):
This famous saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary,” is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, has a great significance in the journey of faith. The Psalmist in this Psalm 19: 1-6 in a way serves as a prelude to this quoted saying, where he explains that nature serves as a channel for God’s revelation, with no words at all. The heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork, and in the heavens, God has set a tent for the sun, all of these explain God’s revelation in nature. It is interesting to note that in verse 3-4, the Psalmist says, “There is no speech, not are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world.” God’s revelation comes through in the formats where there are no words, no speeches but only through their acts and presence in nature. It is also important to recognise that these wordless revelations are also anti-empire revelations. Some scholars have noticed that the 1-6 verses in this Psalm bring some shades of a Canaanite poetry, where the sun is personified as a bridegroom, and serves as an intermediary god. Psalmist contests such notions of gods and empires, and explains that sun, heavens, skies all direct and point out to the Creator God, with no words. To recognise such a wordless revelation of God, it requires an open heart, mind and eyes, for there isn’t a place where God is not present. This Psalm served as a sign of hope for the post-exilic community to know that God’s revelation is dynamic, diverse and diligent. For it is dynamic because God reveals through the known things with no words, for it is diverse because God reveals not just in ways and means that people know for example through the temple or prophets and it is diligent because God’s revelation is clear, in the familiar and known to all, not just for few chosen ones.
2. The word-filled God’s revelation (7-11v):
The Psalmist then explains the second mode of God’s revelation, which is through the law, a word-filled revelation. The post-exilic community were also recovering the importance of scripture, which they had forgotten during the exile. This Psalm therefore emphasises the importance of the scriptures, which again explains another form of God’s revelation, this time through words. Unlike in the previous section of giving examples like heavens, skies, sun as means of God’s revelations, the Psalmist in this section does not give the examples of the texts like the ten commandments or Levitical laws or festival laws etc. rather explains in this section the rewards of the law or the Torah. In a way, the Psalmist makes a case to recognise the open-endedness of the religious texts and therefore exhibits the diversity of the scriptures. The Psalmist explains six characteristics of the scripture and their subsequent rewards, which demonstrate the word-filled God’s revelation. I have tabulated it here to give us a snapshot of the word-filled God’s revelation.
We again notice the aforementioned characteristics of God’s revelation, that they are dynamic, diverse and diligent. All of these word-filled God’s revelations are more desired than the fine gold and sweeter than the pure honey (10v), which explains the dynamism in God revelations. The six characteristics of the scriptures or the word explains the diversity of the word and in their understandings. The diligence of God’s revelation is understood in their rewards that they bring in. The word-filled revelations of God are not about authority and power, they are not discriminatory or hateful, rather are about hope, love, revival and refreshment to the people of God. This again explains the anti-empire understanding of God’ revelations, for the words of the empire were more about authority and power. In a way, the rewards of the word-filled revelations explain and locate the purpose of the scriptures, for they exist to revive the soul, to make wise simple, for the rejoicing of hearts, to enlighten the eyes, to endure forever, and to make righteous altogether. The word-filled revelations of God in no way exclude anyone based on their identity, they don’t teach hate to people who look different to us and they don’t oppress people based on the texts. This Psalm is in a way helping us to understand that the word-filled revelations of God are to promote life and are to contest anything that denies life.
Towards the end, the Psalmist ask God to keep him blameless and innocent of great transgression and concludes this Psalm in verse 14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations (wordless) of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer,” drawing a relevance in understanding God’s dynamic, diverse and diligent revelation with and without words.
C.S. Lewis in commenting about this Psalm 19 said, “I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the great lyrics in the world,” and indeed it is a very meaningful Psalm, for it has a relevance for us today in the 21st century too. The message is clear and loud for us from this Psalm, that God’s revelations whether in word or without word are dynamic, diverse and diligent. This Psalm calls us to give up our narrow mindedness, particularly when it comes to God’ revelations, for there is no only one way that God chooses to reveal God’s love and God’s self to this world, for God’s revelations comes to us in very many ways including in ways we haven’t thought or imagined. Particularly in the context when there is a roadmap for the easing down of the lockdown in the UK and as churches gear up to return to worship in the church buildings, it is important to recognise God’s revelations happening beyond our known traditional modes and cultivate those new models of God’s revelations. The task for us as churches is to account for the kinds of God’s revelations that came in during the last one year of lockdown and nurture them, where transforming community will be at the heart of our mission with God. Experiencing God’s revelations are always rewarding and refreshing, and as a church we need to ask God to strengthen us to be open to God’s new means of revelations. In our preparedness for a post-lockdown church, we need to struggle with God in knowing God’s revelations for our times today. God’s revelations today come to us through songs, through music, through films, through art, through acts of kindness, through struggles for justice, through our daily exercises, through conversations, through reading books, and several other mundane acts of our routines. God’s revelations come to us in all freedom and are always liberative. Let us keep looking out for God revelations in our daily lives and let us keep experiencing God’s love in our lives and in the lives of our communities. God’s revelation is happening today particularly among people on the margins and may we have the humility in recognising God there and join with God in working towards their transformation. We should also be bold in contesting people who exclude people based on few written texts, for God’s revelation is an ongoing one, a continuing process and is all about life-affirming.
Having been frightened to new learnings in theology, imagine if I and my four other friends have quitted our theological education in that very first year, I wouldn’t have known the dynamism, diversity and diligence of God’s revelations, for I would have always argued about my own way of knowing God’s revelation. But I need to testify that theological exposure in my life has deepened my faith in Jesus Christ, giving me new insights on learning from different perspectives, by making me open to all streams and variants of faith understandings. God is gracious, and in that grace, God reveals God’s love and generosity to all people in this world. May God’s revelations which are dynamic, diverse and diligent come to each of us and grant us the needed courage and strength in working for the kingdom of God here in our localities, so that we live out a God who is constantly on the go, offering God’s revelations to all people and to all creation. Amen.
Raj Bharat Patta,
5th March 2021
Pic credit: https://scripturetype.com/psalm-19-1