With the baking day cancelled, today’s schedule eased enough for me to engage with the suggestion I’d posted on Hermione’s Heaven this week — to read the (whole of?) the book of Psalms.
I chose to pick up The Message, which has sat ignored on my shelf since I bought it with a Wesley Owen token someone had foolishly given me. I don’t expect to like The Message, but lots of people are reading it, so…
I began at the beginning — never the easiest place to start with the Psalms. I read:
How well God must like you —
you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon,
you don’t slink along Dead-End Road,
you don’t go to Smart-Mouth college. (Ps 1.1, The Message)
Now, I knew it was a paraphrase, but how did we get there from:
How blessed is anyone who rejects the advice of the wicked
and does not take a stand in the path that sinners tread,
nor a seat in company with cynics… (Ps 1.1, NJB)
Still, I perservered.
Ps 2.1 —
Why the big noise, nations?
Why the mean plots, peoples? (oh how I wish that were ‘people’)
Ps 4.2-3 —
You rabble — how long do I put up with you scorn
Look at this: look
Who got picked by God!
He listens the split second I call to him.
Ps 5.1, 4-7 —
Listen, God! Please, pay attention!
You don’t socialize with Wicked,
or invite Evil over as your houseguest.
Hot-Air-Boaster collapses in front of you;
you shake your head over Mischief-Maker.
God destroys Lie-Speaker;
Blood-Thirsty and Truth-Bender disgust you.
And here I am, your invited guest–
Ps 6.1-2 —
Please, God, no more yelling,
no more trips to the woodshed.
Treat me nice for a change;
I’m so starved for affection.
Can’t you see I’m black and blue,
beat up badly in bones and soul?
God how long will it take you to let up?
I almost had to stop reading there. Have we really just implied that God is an abusive parent?
So by psalm seven, when I read
Ps 7.1 —
God! God! I am running to you for dear life;
the chase is wild.
If they catch me, I’m finished
… I knew I was rooting for the other guy.
I am all for modern language in scripture and in worship. I am all for finding ways to tell the bible story that will speak more readily to those for whom it is unfamiliar.
But this just made me want to run screaming ‘no, no, that is not the God I believe in.’
I know the psalms can be hard in any version. There are psalms of great beauty, but there are also psalms that are petty and vindictive, projecting all our hopes for vengeance onto God. Most translations of the psalms do not hide their foreignness. The images and structures are ancient, and we are free to hope we have moved on — as a culture and as people of faith — from some of what we find there.
Peterson’s paraphrase does away with all that. There is no distance, and I (wrongly?) get the sense that I’m supposed to be right there with the narrator, saying ‘na-na-na-na-na’ every time the wicked get punished or I experience the blessing of God. I don’t want to be there; I cannot overcome the feeling of disgust.
So, I’m going to start over again, with something safe like the New Jerusalem Bible (always good for poetry). Then perhaps later, I will summon the courage to read another bit of The Message (Gospels? Epistles?) in the hope that my first impressions will be proven wrong.