Monday, May 4, 2009

The Words Left Unsung

Yesterday we sang a nice little number called "Shout for Joy to the Lord," which was adapted from Psalm 95. As usual I was so focused on the music that I didn't stop to look at the text for the words until the Sunday we sang it. I was surprised: it turns out this was one of my favorite Psalms, at least recently, Psalms that shocked me with a great punch-line at the end. And the reason why I didn't recognize one of my recent favorite Psalms is that the writer had left out the punch-line.

Here's the last 2/3 of Psalm 98:
4 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music;
5 make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing,
6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn—shout for joy before the LORD, the King.
7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands, Let the mountains sing together for joy;

9 let them sing before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.

We basically did all that and then stopped at the end of verse 8. In doing so we covered the rejoicing of creation but never WHY the creation was rejoicing. It wasn't just the joy of existing -- it was the joy of looking forward to a future visit by the judge!

Now, that's pretty weird stuff to those of us when "Here Comes the Judge" brings the automatic implication of "let's go and hide" (much like two people in a garden long ago). But this judge came already, and who did he look like? An itenerant Jew who accepted death on a cross. When this judge returns, he will fix the groanings of creation with transformation and liberation. He will be fair to all people, and He will make everything what it was meant to be. That is something big enough to make the rivers clap.

I don't blame the songwriter for cutting the text off early. Not to do so would be to fight centuries of misapplication and apprehension about God's role as judge. And there's a little healthy fear that should be there, too. But I want to make it clear that the original text is richer, fuller, and more provocative. And the original text has the more positive view of creation: it isn't just about us getting right, it's about the trees and fields getting right too. Therefore we should anticipate the future and treat the rivers and mountains right in the present, to the best of our abilities. (I think that's Parable of Talents material there.)

The version we sang was dilute. Sometimes you have to be dilute ... just for the sake of rhyming! But I'd love to find a current songwriter who can make the hope of ancient Israel for the coming of truly righteous Judge, to make that hope come alive for us in the present, in anticipation of the future.


Deanna said...

I think this is where we turn to the late, lamented songwriter and singer Rich Mullins, for his song "The Just Shall Live" - it's on the Songs 2 CD that was released after his death.

From the bridge of the song:
"And the Lord looks down on the sons of men/To hear the cries of the innocent/And the guilty will not stand/For the day of reckoning will soon come/And the whole world will see the justice done/By the Lord's almighty hand..."

BenMc said...

Yeah, leave it to Rich to do exactly that. Thanks for the reminder. I'm trying to think of someone who does that for 4-part choir music but am still coming up empty!