The Passing of a Pet

It’s alright to cry. Even my dad does sometimes.

My dog is dying. Her name is Snuggles (why to this day that is her name I still can’t quite explain). She has been our family dog for the past 12 years. She was just a puppy born at the pound. I was twelve.

My mom is devastated. Snuggles has been a constant presence in our household, a constant companion at every meal, every movie, every gathering. How do you respond to loss of something that has been so present? It’s not just the tears that naturally come in the days of her passing. It is the continual ache that accompanies each moment where they used to be.

Now please understand, I am aware of the limited nature of my own grief. Snuggles was a friend but she was also just a dog. A pet that we brought into our life, that lived until an old age, and that wasn’t even always that fun to play with. If there is an ache, it is one of a paper cut compared to the loss of a limb when a family member, a loved one, or a spouse passes on.

And yet grief cannot be ignored. To leave something un- grieved is to create a chiasmus hole that only grows with every passing loss that is stuffed inside. Twelves years is many memories and even a paper-cut demands to be taken seriously for its own pain.

Even more than Snuggles though there is an ache that I feel in being confronted with death. It is the most haunting of veils which we try to ignore, only to pull back and discover ourselves reflected in its mirror. Love, joy, money, politics, entertainment, even family pets, these are all the fleeting distractions which we try to use to ignore death’s stalking presence. And yet the irony is not lost upon me that by bringing a pet into your life, the nature of their short lives will cause you to again and again confront the reality of your own impending passing.

What are we to do then in the face of such grief?

Hope certainly, for a life without hope will inevitably become a life of despair. As we look back to that most ancient of faiths, we discover a power that has already confronted and defeated death itself. For that and much else, we have many reasons to hope.

Before concluding, however, I would also put forth another response, one that has grown more and more imperative in my recent reflections: to remember. We respond to death with our memories; those bright beacons of light that pierce the darkness of our loved one’s passing shadows, in all their vivid multi-color splendor. It is memory that has the unique ability to bring our past of our loved ones into the present, and thereby allow us to continue to be engaged with those now gone. Of course, it is this power which most often turns us away; it is too painful to remember because in remembering we are forced to confront the truth of their absence.  Not all pain however is evil, and when we embrace the finitude of our world, we can through remembering once again cherish the presence of those no longer here.

Snuggles has been put to sleep, and with her passing she leaves behind absence of her presence which will burn, throb and then likely fade as her role in my family’s life is filled by other things. I have hope however that though she now leaves the world of the living, her memory will remain. Perhaps unexpectedly someone will laugh and point at our glass door which Snuggles would occasionally run full speed into. At other times, we may look around with a sigh and discuss the way she used to lie just out of reach, keeping a watchful eye over the family as she lazily dozed the day away. In remembering, we keep her presence real, in all its pain and beauty, she continues to be present with us because of her place in our pasts. She brought delight to our family’s life for twelve beautiful years. May she now rest in peace.

And may I somehow in spite of my pain, embrace my  grief, and cherish the memories. As Tolkien wisely said, “I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil”. So don’t wipe your eyes, tears remind you you’re alive.

Roses_grave

A Tribute to Ethan Mills

What makes a life meaningful?

I’m certainly not qualified to present a definitive answer to such a question, but I can admit that this query has plagued me much since youth. What is it that makes a man or woman’s life truly great in this world? Is it their influence for greatness (ie lives saved in Africa from some horrible disease or affliction) or is it the certainty of their convictions and ability to convince others (ie the great evangelist of the faith)? Is it a life long in years, full of safety and comfort (quantity), or is it the intensity of the flame before it was snuffed out (quality)? Perhaps most importantly, what control do we really have over the length or shortness of our days? Are we really in control of our fate, or are some “stars” unavoidably given, such that we have nothing to do but the best we can do with what we have received?

My wife and I recently saw the heartbreaking love story of The Fault in Our Stars. For those who have yet to experience its charm, the movie is a surprisingly delightful and heartbreaking tale of two cancer stricken teenagers trying to sift through the meaning of their lives and love. It voices (in its own way), the full depth and intensity of the questions listed above and comes to some powerful conclusions (which I’ll return to in a moment). As I watched the movie I experienced all of the highs and lows with typical detached movie goer delight, pondering the strange world of teenage cancer victims which the movie so readily engaged. Until suddenly, right at the peak of the movie’s emotional intensity, when the audience is starting to realize that cancer always means someone is going to die and that we therefore better take seriously the questions asked above, I was struck.

You see I had a friend, a fantastic friend named Ethan Mills. Ethan had a heart full of life. The man literally would always be at the center of a party. He was wild, and extravagant, loud and carefree, except when he would become surprisingly soft or sensitive. Ethan cracked jokes with ease, always made drastic gestures to establish his point, and loved the presence of company on whatever had turned out to be the next adventure. Ethan sat a few seats away from me my freshman year of Spanish and he and I first became thoroughly acquainted by a trading back and forth of stick figure drawings depicting everything from a Spanish class uprising to overthrow our boring teacher to Superheroes dueling off against Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Naturally we became fast friends.

As I think back to those formative years of Ethan and I progressing through life I’m struck by how simple and ordinary our lives were. Questions over where we were going to hang out that weekend (typically at the Spenla’s), debates over which celebrity was more “gay” (a terminology certainly no longer appropriate, though it was at the time a term Ethan especially liked to toss around), endless runs to Quick Trip to get drinks, endless nights sitting on the couch talking about anything and nothing. We all talked much of girls and little of the future, much of sports and movies and little of college degrees. We had endless amounts of inside jokes, and volleyball humor, picked up from our years discovering and playing the not so glamorous sport together. Those long evenings outside of school were the good times and they were many.

There were of course, also bad. Fights occasionally came up. Certain people sometimes got on certain other people’s nerves, or started dating each other, or broke up with each other and sides typically formed. Ethan and I were close sometimes and further apart others. I’ll never forget an afternoon junior year where Ethan, per his usual self was making a very intensive argument trying to support something (who knows what) that I thought was ridiculous. After growing more and more exasperated, I finally let off a rude remark to him, which made him back off with clear pain in his eyes. I knew I had crossed the line but I was annoyed at him for being annoying and had decided he deserved it and wanted to move on. I’ll never forget that night getting a phone call from him. After only hesitantly deciding to reply, Ethan cheerfully asked if I wanted to pick him up and take him to Wendy’s. I think he even asked if he could borrow money when we got there (another pretty typical scenario). As we sat down with our food, I’ll never forget him looking at me and saying, “John, I felt like you were mad at me today and I just wanted to check in and see what was up.” After a few bumbling words of apology, Ethan with clarity and confidence reassured me, “John, you don’t ever need to apologize. We’re friends man. I just wanted to make sure we don’t let anything come in the way of that.” He then cheerfully just chatted away the rest of the night until we parted ways with our friendship securely in tack.

As we neared graduation, our friendship strangely started to fade. Maybe it was the fact that we both travelled overseas the summer before our senior year, and that we both started making different friends. Maybe it was our trajectory towards different schools, especially my own pretentious notion that because I was moving away, I was “moving on”. It was the fall that I had just left for school in Chicago when the news came. The cancer that Ethan had thought gone from his youth had returned with full fury. It was serious but they thought it could be treated. Everyone was pretty positive and optimistic at the start, and though I naturally cared, it felt just like something for all of us to get behind and get through.  I came to visit him once in the hospital, early in the fall when he had just started treatments and Ethan was his typical delightful self. He cracked a few jokes, laughed at my college experiences and graciously accepted my weak attempt to have something to offer him (a book which he and I both knew he would probably not read). We smiled, I gave him a hug and told him I was praying and we parted ways.

However that spring things got bad. Really bad. Almost it seemed without me even fully realizing how fast life was moving, rumors came to me that the chemo was not working, that the cancer was spreading and Ethan needed a miracle if he was to survive. Naturally the community rallied even harder around him. I watched from a distance, saddened and yet unsure what to make of all of it. People started saying he wasn’t expected to live past the summer and I had already made plans to once again travel abroad. However before my trip was to take place, I had two weeks where I would be home. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to call. I knew how much pain everyone was in, and somehow my detachment left me selfishly feeling so guilty for having missed all of it. Finally, a few days before I was to leave, I realized that I had to try and so I picked up the phone, gave Dave and Kylee a call, and was kindly invited to swing by Ethan’s place where they would be hanging out.

The first thing I saw when walking through the door was Ethan sitting on an armchair, but it was hardly an Ethan I could recognize. His hair was entirely gone, his face shrunken from a clear loss of weight. He had oxygen tubes in his nose and his mouth looked slightly drawn, each breath clearly an effort and experience of pain. But as soon as he saw me he smiled, told me to come over and give him a hug. We all pleasantly chatted, pretending that nothing was wrong until Ethan soon grew tired and went to lay down. But as I finally got up to leave, Ethan’s brother stopped me and said, “Wait you’re leaving right? This may be the last chance you have to say good bye.” I was invited into the bedroom and Ethan’s brother kindly shut the door. Ethan was lying there, just focusing on breathing but was very clearly awake. As I sat on the edge of his bed, it all hit me. What does one say in such a situation as this? What words bring meaning? How does one sum up a friendship, or even more, a life? I immediately went to offer some words of comfort, but found them slowing trailing off…quite unnecessary for what our friendship had been. But Ethan was all smiles, and he looked at me and asked, “So how are you really man?” I told him I was dating the girl of my dreams, and that I thought she would be my wife. I told him that I was loving my biblical studies degree, and that I was so excited to become a pastor. I told him that life was good, that God was good, and that I felt truly blessed to be experiencing what he had so far given me. He looked me in the eyes and with the biggest smile I had seen that night said, “Bro that is so awesome.” His head then sank down as he continued smiling up at the ceiling, almost as if he was staring into the future and smiling at the life I would lead.” He then turned back to me and said, “You’re a great man John and a good friend, and I’m so happy for you.” We said a few more words, until I finally hugged him good bye. I walked out of his house, got into my car and just sat there crying, overwhelmed by the realization that Ethan gave me far more than I ever had capacity to give him, and that true to his word in Wendy’s two years ago, he was my friend, and not even his own death could dampen his delight in who I was.

I returned home two months later to the news that Ethan had passed away. He had a celebration to remember from what I heard. And I was left to ponder it all, at a distance, uninvolved in the final moments and yet entirely affected by his life and our loss. It has now been four years and I am still pondering it all. In some ways this reflection is my apology for not having been there. In some ways these are the words I wish I could have said as I sat by his bed that final time. In some ways, these thoughts are all entirely too serious for someone as lighthearted as Ethan Mills. He most likely would have made fun of me if he knew I had written this kind of blog. But it is my tribute all the same, my attempt to remember and reflect on this incredible life that so quickly and shortly brushed up against mine.

Which returns me to the movie, The Fault in Our Stars and the questions posed at the start of my blog. You see, we all are given the chance to live out our lives meaningfully, yet none are guaranteed the depth, or width, or length of the life we will lead. We each have a limited infinity as the book behind the movie so eloquently states, and some of us are given larger infinities than others. In those infinities we are foolish, and stupid, yet we have the chance to also be kind and wise. Sometimes our infinities are marked by hurtful things we say, friendships neglected or ignored, while other moments our infinities are those perfect ones, nights around the fire where everyone feels at home and the world seems right.  In my own infinity, the story of my friendship with Ethan Mills ended with estranged detachment, confusion and neglect, so overwhelmed by it all that I knew not what to offer.  But Ethan was the one who even in his dying moments had the wisdom and meaningfulness to offer life back to me.

Ethan did not live a perfect life, but he lived a meaningful one, if only because through his life he so strongly evoked life in others. I surely still cannot fully articulate a response to my own initial question, but I acknowledge and reflect on others who seem to be doing something right. May my memory of Ethan cause me to embody a life that does not count on length but rather fullness of days, a life that like Ethan’s begets life in others. All in dependence and hope in a redeemer whom Ethan and I both shared, that might forgive and restore any meaningful moments of our infinities wasted. Rest in peace, my good friend, and know that you are remembered.

In Christ,

John Perrine

 

 John and Ethan

Where and Why: The Questions of Our Sorrows

Abandonment

Thoughts and Theology on Hiddenness and Abandonment

My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?

Recently, I have experienced a season.

A trial.

A dark night of my soul.

Now my testing has certainly been tame in comparison to most. A struggle for a name that barely displaced my hip. But a slight limp still is a limp all the same, and I now join with the many gimping saints, in struggling with the question, “Why?”

But no, “why” is a question of despair, one any broken soul must push past to mend. And push past we eventually do, those who choose to continue limping down the road of faith. “Why” will have to wait for the end of the road. We each meanwhile journey forth with new names to placate the pain.

No, as my season of testing begins to fade, a far more urgent, far more terrifying question is uttered in the recess of my mind, resounding in the silence with its reverberating claim.

“Where?”

Where were you my God when the pain flooded in?

Where were you my God when I cried out your name?

Where were you my God when I searched desperately and you could not be found?

Would not be found?

Yet I am comforted in my sorrow that I am not alone in finding God hidden in these seasons of agonizing absence.

There was a night, a long, cold, and lonely night where the man of sorrows was more than wounded. And on that cross, the one who was in every way “one with God” cried aloud;

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

What are we to make of this most terrifying of mysteries? Jesus the Son of God, abandoned by his Father on the cross? Now I realize this passage is uncomfortable. However, as we approach this Good Friday, the more I’ve become startled at its audacity. Surely this flies in the face of every feel good cliché offered to Christians in their time of need? Surely such a cry from the cross should if naught else give us pause to reflect on the possibility of such a trembling inquisition: If God truly did, even for a moment, abandon his only son, does He ever abandon us?

Now before you dismiss my query, I invite you to sit at the feet of my suffering. But far more than mine, small and feeble in its throbbing, I ponder the darkest nights of every soul. The abusive husband who attends church. The child molested by the one teaching him about God. The wife neglected by his drinking and anger. The suffering innocents defeated by a corrupted system of economics and race. The emaciated child starving for food or his parents affections.  The agnostic Jew who looks upon the tragedies of the Holocaust and says, “If there is a God, he was not present in Auschwitz.” Though we may even come up with feeble attempts to the “Why?” the “Where?” continues to perplex even the most faithful of souls.

So as we turn to the Sacred pages, we find Jesus voicing his agony by quoting another. The psalm of dereliction (Psalm 22) which Jesus uttered gasps out a similar demand;

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

No rest for his sorrows. No end to his misery. No salvation in sight. The Psalmist voices the fears of those darkest of nights by facing into the abandonment he feels by a God who should have been there but cannot be found. (Such a powerful vocalization of pain makes me wonder if we indeed could begin to grasp the permissiveness of the psalms then maybe the Scriptures would not be so quickly abandoned in the face of our grief.) Here the psalmist invites the faithful reader of God’s word to ponder with him where God could possibly be in the midst of our excruciating forsakenness.

This word, “forsaken” is a powerfully direct and unabashed word, the Hebrew equivalent used by the Psalmist, עָזַב (‘zb), included in its ancient context the male prerogative to divorce (literally to “forsake” his wife). Thus in contrast to any who would minimize the possibility of God, the psalmist is insistent in his choice of wording at the extent of real and tangible abandonment that has occurred. God has literally removed himself, left behind, departed from, or even “loosened himself” from the psalmist. Far from isolated, the theme of abandonment runs a consistent current of anxiety in other passages of the Scriptures. With reference to the exile, Israel asks;

Why have you forgotten us completely?
Why have you forsaken (‘zb) us these many days? (Lam 5:20)

What has begun in these two passages later in Isaiah has become a conclusion:

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
My Lord has forgotten me.”  (Isaiah 49:14)

To be sure, the question is quickly answered, even refuted in v. 15:

Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.

And yet, in the same body of poetry (thus the same witness), Yahweh concedes the point of abandonment, even though it was “for a moment”:

For a brief moment I abandoned (‘zb) you…
In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you… (Isa 54:7-8)

The question lingers in Israel. It lingers because Israel is so honest in its testimony and because lived reality does not easily conform to core statements of God’s enduring presence. It would appear that we are invited, if only for a moment to be utterly perplexed. It would seem that, even if just for a moment, Jesus was forsaken on the cross. And perhaps its even possible that in those darkest nights, if even just for a moment, there is a real and tangible possibility that God might have abandoned us as well.

And yet commentators have been quick to point out that the psalm Jesus quotes does not end in despair. Though the Psalmist throughout the first half of Psalm 22 is despairing of God’s absent present, he suddenly changes to a pronouncement of praise in v. 24-25:

        You who fear the Lord, praise him!

             All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,

            and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

        For he has not despised or abhorred

            the affliction of the afflicted,

             and he has not hidden his face from him,

but has heard, when he cried to him.

Something has happened for the Psalmist that is now causing him to praise. Or maybe something hasn’t happened, but the Psalmist has decided it’s time to praise all the same. Of course, it would seem, God has not been wholly idle in his absence. And his face will not be hidden from the afflicted forever. Sunday will arrive, Jesus will rise, curtains will be torn, Rome will be awed, every knee will bow and heaven will come to Earth.

But today is still Friday.

And other days it is Saturday.

And we wonder where and sometimes even why. The questions it seem are not always alleviated even by the offering of a name, as each unsteady step of our limp assures us we too will be burdened by the forsakenness of a cross. But as I reflect on my dark nights of testing, I return with Jesus to read and sometimes even cry aloud the words of the Psalm. Surely it felt (and even feels) like I have been abandoned by God. But the psalmist conclusion makes me wonder if it is not God’s absence but simply his ability to be seen that has gone away. Hidden from my sight. Indeed, my faith cannot allow me to believe that God’s sovereign hand was wholly removed from my plight. But perhaps intentionally, God was hidden in order that I might start to call. Cry out. Anguish in despair only to huddle back crouched over in faith, curled in the shadow of a cross, where my savior could simultaneously cry, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” and “It is finished.”  For there is indeed a refining fire through my suffering that no quiet waters could procure. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences but shouts to us in our pain. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. And sometimes he abandons us it would seem, only for us to realize that he has been present all along, simply hidden from our view, until the appointed time when he will reveal himself again.

Where then is God?

He is here. We could not escape him even if we tried. But for now he is hidden, and we are invited to cry out, even to question if he will ever return. But he will, and he does. As surely as Sunday comes, he will come for us.

A Lament for a Broken Generation

the-crossing-daniel-bonnell

We men are but few and far between,

Suffering from the wounds and aches of our absent fathers

Where do we begin; the rubble or our sins?

Family  desolation and desecration has wrought neglect begetting neglect

None are without blame or shame in the perilous path to realized masculinity

All look elsewhere or within, seeking a validation inevitably fleeting in clout

How are we to be men, if there are no men around?

How are we to be fathers, if our fathers are all gone?

How are we to be lovers if we have not been loved?

How are we to be righteous, if our hands are stained with sins?

We are a broken generation, fatherless due to fathers who had no fathers.

Men bred by men broken from the absence of their own men.

For all our cunning ploys and advances, we are but snared by the ruse of our own projected image

We are not men.

And yet.

In the midst of our vices, and there is one great virtue

In the midst of our disparaged souls we pray to a redeemer

In the midst of our dark night, we call out for a father

To you oh God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob we pray

Father of Moses, Father of David,

Father of prophets, kings, priests, and a people

Shepherd to a nation, Liberator of those held captive, Lover of wanton wive’s souls

May you, oh incomparable one, fill the gaps of our masculinity

Teach us your love,  that we might offer ourselves

Give us your hands, that we might build for others

Show us your strength, that we might be strong in this frail world around

Father us, oh God, that we might father as men

fully present to our children, abounding in righteousness

In the name of the Son truly fathered by the Father,

Amen

The Angel Named Gretchen

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I met an angel today: Her name was Gretchen. 

Truly it was her smell that hit me first as I stood at the cash register in Starbucks. The uncomfortable stench of unwashed clothing and body that compounded into an unmaskable aura. She was hunched over on a walker, clearly unable to move faster than the slowest tread, inching her way towards me as those around began to uncomfortable identify the odor wafting towards us. Her hair was grey and thin, dangling in front of her face and her badly damaged clothes hung loosely over her overweight body. I could not seem to help the uncomfortable grimace I felt in my stomach, trying to keep it off my smile plastered face. 

“What can I do for you today?” I asked. 

“Could I please have just a cup of hot water?” Gretchen softly said. 

“A cup of water?” I thought to my self, “You’re making everyone in the store uncomfortable for a free cup of hot water?” 

I smiled and nodded, sliding her the cup and couldn’t help but notice as she hobbled away that she was taking a prime time seat, feet away from the bar, guaranteeing that both myself and every customer would smell her the rest of her time in the store. 

As the hours began to pass, Gretchen sat resolutely in her chair, where she would remain until the store closed 8 hours later, working on something indiscernible, a drawing perhaps but certainly not one of any recognizable form. About 3 hours in, I hear Gretchen holler to my coworker on bar, “Scuse me sir, could I get another cup of hot water?” 

My co-worker grabbed the water and placed it on the bar, clearing busy with other tasks, and shouted out as usual, “cup of hot water!” 

A few minutes passed and still the cup sat there, Gretchen hunched over her chair still working on her drawing. 

After about 10 minutes, my coworker shouted again, this time a bit louder, “Cup of Water sitting on the bar!” Gretchen replied with an equally loud and devastating response, “Scuse me sir, it’s just not very easy for me to get up and come get my water!” 

As I stood there, staring at the 5 feet of space that separated Gretchen from her water, my heart was overwhelmed with compassion. Immediately, I left my post at the register, swung by the bar, grabbed Gretchen’s water and walked right up close to her horrible smelling workspace and said, “So sorry about that ma’am, here’s your cup of water.” 

“Thank you,” She sincerely replied, “You’re a kind young soul.” 

As I looked in to her eyes, my heart was crushed by my dehumanizing indifference which overtook my immediate response to Gretchen. My wife tells me that a majority of the homeless have some form of schizophrenia and Gretchen was a perfect example. Alone, distorted from reality, heavily abusive of any system which would offer her benefit, she had no value to the world, and could not have been more than partially present to reality. But in that moment, I began to see something else. 

Could it be that Gretchen was an angel? Surely none were more suited to fit the author of Hebrew’s description: 

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Heb 13:2

This past year, my service industry work has been riddled with the homeless, each uncomfortably needy, each accompanied by an unappetizing smell, each causing a disturbance upon their entrance and departure from a “socially preferred” environment. And yet if Hebrews 13 is at all to be taken with utmost sincerity, what more likely angels would I have encountered this past year? 

What if Gretchen was my angel, unknowingly present in my midst that day? What if other homeless were angels? Surely even if Gretchen and the others were not, is it possible I would treat them differently I thought that they could be? 

How many angels have I unknowingly passed by, disturbed by their irritating and disruptive presence, only to have God’s messengers be cast from my store? 

Now I know, this all sounds a bit crazy, and for some this will seem far too spiritual for any pragmatic use. But I was struck by another passage as I pondered Gretchen presence in my day: 

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward. Matt 10:42

Today I met an angel and gave her a glass of water. However this particular angel liked her water hot. May all my days be filled with Gretchens and angels, and may I never miss a chance to give them a cup of water. 

Awake My Soul (A Prayer)

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Awake My Soul: A Prayer

Awake My Soul

Overburdened, heavy wearied

Awake My Soul

Hardened, heated, yet cooling, now cold

Awake My Soul

Distracted, empty-dreary

Awake Oh God Awake My Soul

Shine your Light, blaze to life

Cool refreshing streams of glory

Bring my heart, pumping, bleeding

That I might once again live full life

Take these pieces, bruised and bleating

Heavy now, but weighted like gold

Take my life, lived for your leading

Send your Spirit to awake my soul

Kingship in the Psalms: Part I

Kingship Psalm

Kingship in the Psalms

The book of Psalms is an obvious and necessary destination in any exploration of a biblical theology of Kingship. Indeed, the Psalms resound with majestic notes trumpeting David, God’s anointed and familiar verses from Jesus’ frequent reference to the Psalms. However, what has often gone unnoticed is that the Psalms are not primarily just random collections of hymns all with random catchy sayings that Jesus randomly quoted. They instead are intentionally theological in their design and offer both complex and clarifying answers to the questions of kingship that the biblical narrative has so far presented.

Our brief summary will highlight the three most essential and explicit psalms of Davidic kingship that pertain to our study; Psalm 2, Psalm 72 and Psalm 89. Though many other psalms reflect upon kingship (and are also certainly worthy of exploration), these three are viewed as most critical because they come at key junctures in the book of Psalms. In brief, Psalm 2, a song celebrating the exulted status of God’s chosen king over the world, is tied to Psalm 1 as an introduction to the entire Psalter and sets the tone for the rest of the Psalms, one of anticipation and excitement about God’s anointed king. Psalm 72, a psalm about David’s prayer for the reign of Solomon, closes the second book of the Psalms and seems to give us a theological portrait of expectation for how God desires his king to rule over his people. Psalm 89, our third and final psalm, is a psalm of lament, reflecting on the failure of Judah’s kings as the people are expelled from the land and asking why God would abandon the king he had promised in Psalm 2 would rule over the nations. Psalm 89 concludes book three and reflects a shift in the attitude of the Psalmists. Though the Davidic kingship will be mentioned a few times in the remaining psalms, focus has seemed to shift from excitement about God’s chosen king, to placing one’s hope in God himself as the eternal king over all his people (see especially Psalms 93-99 for emphasis on God as king rather than his chosen Davidic son). In sum, these three psalms reflect awareness of both expansion and decline, and will be vital to understanding what the Psalms as a whole have to teach us about a biblical theology of kingship. Therefore we will briefly examine each Psalm before offering concluding reflections on the Psalter’s contribution to a biblical theology of kingship.

Psalm 2: The Adoption of the King as God’s Representative Ruler

Psalm 2 is typically see to comprise of three section, therefore we will begin by examining the first (verse 1-3):

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”

The setting opens with the psalmist examining the nations around him and seeing chaos, tumult and scheming. The psalmist asks in amazement “Why are the nations raging and people plotting against God and the king he has set on the throne in Jerusalem?” What is amazing however is not necessarily that the people are scheming but that the Psalmist envisions the nations scheming against God and his anointed. Indeed it is not only God’s chains the nations are trying to break free from but also the king! So we are immediately greeted with an incredible scene, one where God and his King are ruling over all the nations. Section two (verses 4-6) follows:

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

In section two (vv. 3-6) the laughter of the Lord depicts the ludicrous nature of the coup described in section one. Direct contrast is made between he who “sits in the heavens” (vv. 4) with those who take their “stand” as “kings of the earth” (vv. 2). God’s anger burns in response to the challenge from the nations to his authority over the earth (vv. 5). However, when God does speak, he terrifies the earthly rulers not with any direct threat, but simply with an announcement, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill,” (vv. 6). The surprising resolution to the uprising of the Earth is not that God himself will intervene, but rather that he will set for himself his anointed on the throne of Israel so that this anointed king, might with God’s power rule these rebellious nations. Thus section three (verses 7-12)

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Here the Psalm makes its surprising and strongest point. God’s response to the chaos and tumult in the world is his adoption of the king as his son. In the Ancient Near East, when someone was adopted by a deity, it solidified that person as the central figure head in society because they mediated between the deity of the land and the people. The adoption of the Davidic king as God’s son (as also explained in 2 Sam 7:14) signified to both the Israelite people and to the other nations the seriousness by which they were to take God’s promises to David. Note that especially in the context of this Psalm, God was not just telling Israel he had chosen David and his line, but that choice rippled out to influence other nations as well. Though they thought their king might be in charge, the true God over all the nations had chosen David to be his son, and so all other kings (literally the “nations and “the ends of the earth” in verse 8), would be under both God and the Davidic king’s rule. Indeed, there seems to be no distinction between the dominion of God and the dominion of his representative king, the establishment of one is the establishment of the other.  Thus the Psalm ends on a note of warning to the nations, to be wise in the way they serve the Lord (and notice the ambiguity of the phrase “kiss the Son”, possibly referring to either the Davidic king or God and only emphasizing the point of their shared authority over the nations), with blessing offered for any who take refuge in Him.

In summary, Psalm 2 is short and compact, but powerfully to the point. It begins in chaos, tumult and scheming, moves to establishment of God’s son on the Davidic throne as the representative of God’s power and ends with the nations subdued under the rule of God and his Davidic king. In the midst of any trials or uncertainty the people of Israel were facing, Psalm 2 serves as powerful affirmation that God rules the world and has established his king in Israel to be his representative son over the entirety of the world.