The Psalms as poetry

Poetry is language used with personal intensity.  It is not, as so many suppose, decorative speech.  Poets tell us what our eyes, blurred with too much gawking, and our ears, dulled with too much chatter, miss around and within us.  Poets use words to drag us into the depths of reality itself.  They do it not by reporting how life is, but by pushing-pulling us into the middle of it.  Poetry grabs for the jugular.  Far from being cosmetic language, it is intenstinal.  It is root language.  Poetry doesn’t so much tell us something we never knew as bring us into recognition what is latent, forgotten, overlooked, or suppressed.  The Psalms text is almost entirely in this kind of language.  Knowing this, we will not be looking here primarily for ideas about God, or for direction in moral conduct.  We will expect, rather, to find the experience of being human before God exposed and sharpened.  (Eugene H. Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms As Tools For Prayer, p.11-12)

Good stuff.  This is one reason that I get tired of people using Psalm 137:8-10 (dashing infants against rocks) as an argument against a loving God (the other reason, I think, is the context of the chapter).

3 thoughts on “The Psalms as poetry

  1. Andrew

    Some people read the bible as 100% prescriptive, rather than looking as you say at the context and genre of a particular text–plenty of scripture is simply descriptive (expressing human emotion, etc).

  2. kelly

    I have noticed an absolute fear in some people who take the Bible completely as prescription or literally. The question for them is, “Then what do I take literally and what do I take figuratively?” A frightening question, indeed.

  3. Marc

    I still ask that question. Because, as much as I understand the difference between prescription and description, it’s all to easy to write off the uncomfortable parts of the Bible as figurative or “cultural”. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do that, so much as that we have to be careful when we do…

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