You Cannot Be Serious

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c – 5th Sunday after Epiphany – for February 5, 2012

“The Lord God builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.” (Psalm 147:2)

When or where, and from whom, did I first hear . . . I don’t read the Bible literally, but I take it seriously?

A mentor? Perhaps. Was it a gem discovered in a now-recycled magazine article? Could’ve been. Did a renowned theologian first tease me with these words? Possible. This I’m confident about: I’ve quoted it since Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office, wondering why no one liked him anymore. Therefore, before the easily plucked quotations from the digital realms of Google and Wikipedia, I offered this simple, and oh so true, sentence to readers and listeners.

At least it’s oh so true for me.

While studying a few verses of Psalm 147 the other day, I kept hearing I-don’t-read-the-Bible-literally… nudge my consciousness. Nudge? Actually it felt more like tennis great John McEnroe infamously shouting, “You cannot be serious!”

He heals the brokenhearted… (Ps. 147:3). If that’s true, then why do so many of the people I call for hospice weep, sound anguished, speak with voices as if worn out by shouting in a storm?

He determines the number of stars… (Ps. 147:4). Please. In Biblical times they thought the sky was a fixed dome, and the sun moved just above the clouds each day. It’s the Bible that claims Joshua made the sun stand still (Joshua 10). So pardon me if I don’t equate ancient theological metaphors with modern astronomy.

The Lord lifts up the downtrodden… (Ps. 147:6). Can the good Lord please talk some sense into those forlorn homeless men at the corner of Fresno’s Blackstone and Herndon who brandish signs like: I’m a vetran and hongry, pleas help me? They appear permanently downtrodden.

There are other upbeat promises and platitudinous pablum in Psalm 147, so I’ll let you choose your own to be incredulous about. Or, because my views may not be oh so true for you, you can debate or debunk my feeble (un)beliefs.

Psalms 147 is not the only “problem.” The Bible’s chock-full of stumbling blocks and John McEnroe situations.

Such as, can any modern reader study the Bible and not be unsettled with its treatment of women? When scripture was written, women—all women—were property. Find me a verse empowering women and I’ll find you 10 or 100 belittling them. Continue reading →