by Robert MacDonald
Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.
Such words we read in the New Testament. Paul claims he was not disobedient (Acts 26:19) but Festus interjects a few verses later that Paul is mad.
How do we know? We are not all given heavenly visions to ‘obey’ as Paul was. How do we know we are not mad in our pursuit of the calling that is in the Anointed Jesus? How will we be like-minded? Paul writes to the Philippians (3:14) that God will reveal our situation to us.
Now the question is: do we really want to know our situation? Take care. You may find things you did not want to know. But here is an excellent method, one that was used by Jesus himself in his own growth and maturing.
I was brought up with a certain inertia. You know what inertia is: it’s what happens to you when you are pushed in a particular direction, and you have to work to stop going in that direction. You may have had a good push or a bad one, but we all need to take charge of the momentum at some point in our lives. I reacted with a favorite word: No! No to the distortion produced by dangerous directions – take alcoholism for example, or to violent actions against others, or even to my own longing for I did not know what. ‘No’ came easily to me, but I really did not know a Yes that would satisfy. At some point I learned the gospel and learned the love of Christ that is without boundaries. But I had not been taught consciously of what I must do to enter into that glory.
The work which is explained in the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament is a work described for us as if we were overhearing a conversation between a father and a son. Unto which of the Angels did he say: Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee? (Hebrews 1:5 citing Psalm 2.)
This work includes our work, individually, mine and yours, and together, ours, caring for the work of God that is from the beginning and that is complete from then. We must become part of this conversation that we are overhearing. The conversation is an extended conversation that continues forever. In that letter to the Hebrews, the conversation is taken from the Psalms.
When I learned that the Psalms were where Jesus himself is in conversation with his Father, I knew that I must learn them more carefully. I knew when I discovered this, that I must hear that conversation in its original tongue. That meant learning a language that I knew not. (Psalm 81:6). Though I had discovered something of truth already, it was in the Psalms that God reached deeper into me and showed me more of how to live. It is there in that very personal conversation that we will find the truth of our situation, and complete the journey of obedience which God will reveal to us.
I could not find a book that would help me read them in sequence with a close reading that preserved the ancient foreign thought form in the way I wanted to see it. So I wrote it myself and called it Seeing the Psalter. It helps us see the story in the Psalms, and it slows us down in a number of ways so that we will not rush through the necessary time that we need for such hearing and obedience. Still, it is a beginning, but I am convinced we can continue in such a work.
If this be madness, Festus, it is a madness to be deeply desired, like David’s pretense when he feigned his madness in the face of Abimelek (Psalm 34:1). And he writes there in the 7th verse: this poor one calls and the Lord hears and from all his troubles he saves him. And later “taste and see that the Lord is good.” This word taste has the same letters in Hebrew as the word used for madness.