Letters to Laura

June 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

by Sungyak Kim (RTS Seminary Student & Social Media Director)

I’ve had the privilege of taking a few of Steve Childers’ classes at Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando). The best part about his classes is often the Q&A time, where Steve engages each question with his winsome personality and keen intellect. I’ve always wanted to read over and share these Q&A’s with others for their edification.

So when I heard recently that he has been corresponding with Laura (his youngest daughter, Covenant College alum, living and working in Chattanooga) regarding her questions about the Bible and the Christian life, I jumped at the opportunity and requested that he allow me to share his written responses on this blog, to which he and Laura generously agreed. So here’s Part 1 of what I hope to be an enduring, and undoubtedly edifying, series of Q&A’s with Steve Childers.

__________________________________

Laura

Hey Dad, 

In light of my recent afflictions, I’ve started listening to the Psalms on audio in my car (Spotify radio, $15 a month). It felt weird at first to hear them spoken out loud in succession, but now I really love it! The reader is this former missionary who calls himself ”Simon Peterson” (his name is really Christopher Glynn).

Anyway, I wrote because I specifically wanted to know: when listening to the Psalms, WHO or WHAT should I think of as “my enemy”? If I’m going to start diving into them–which I feel like could be GREAT for me right now–I need to have some kind of framework. Can you recommend some supplementary reading?

Honestly, I’m not up for any “DIFFICULT MATERIALS” right now, but if there is some kind of “Intro to the Psalms” article or book written in a decently accessible manner, I would love to know about it.

Thanks! I love you sooooo much!!!  

Your Laura 

__________________________________

Hey Sweetheart,

I’m back home now, and I’ve made my response to the request from the princess a top priority.

I’m so thrilled you’re discovering the depth and riches of the Psalms. They’re amazing, and even frightening and astonishing to me at times, regarding how they reflect the multi-faceted nature of the heart’s affection. Let me just ramble a bit about the bigger picture and then we can talk more later after you read this,

The Psalms gave voice to the people of Israel as they faced a host of life’s circumstances from broken despair to ecstatic joy–including fear of and hatred for the enemies of God and Israel.

To understand the riches of the Psalms, they, like all Scripture, must be seen in light of the bigger picture of the Good News that God is restoring fallen humanity and all of creation through Christ.

Soon after the fall of mankind, we learn in Genesis 3 that all humanity was divided into either the “offspring (seed) of the woman” or the “offspring (seed) of Satan.” This is the commencement of the historic, cosmic, spiritual battle between good and evil. Notice the enemy motif rooted in the “enmity” that God placed between the descendants of Satan and the descendants of Eve.

“And I will put enmity     

between you and the woman,     

and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head,     

and you will strike his heel. (Gen 3:15)

In one of my seminary classes for first-year students, I always ask them, “When was the gospel first proclaimed? Who proclaimed it? And who was the first one to whom it was proclaimed?” The answers: The gospel was first proclaimed by God to Satan shortly after the Fall, and the record of it is found in Genesis 3:15.

Here God is proclaiming to Satan the good news that, even though humanity and creation has fallen, and even though there will be an inter-generational battle between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of Satan, there will be one offspring (Christ) who will ultimately win this cosmic battle by dealing Satan a lethal blow (“he’ll crush your head”).

But this defeat of God’s (and our) greatest enemy, Satan (and all his forces), will come at a cost to this promised One who will “crush his head.” In this battle, Satan will “strike His (Christ’s) heel”, meaning Satan will do Him harm, but in comparison to the lethal blow to Satan (his head), it will be more like a blow to His (Christ’s) heel.

With that background, we can appreciate more deeply what the Apostle Paul wrote at the end of Romans:

“The God of peace    

will soon crush Satan    

under your feet.” (Rom. 16:20)

Note especially here how Paul incorporates all followers of Christ (the “offspring of the woman”) into a mystical union with Him in such a way that when Christ ultimately crushes Satan (and his “offspring”) under HIS feet it will also be under OUR feet. The Good News is that this battle with God’s enemies and ours HAS BEEN WON (the already motif) at the cross AND ultimately WILL BE WON (the not yet) at the final judgment day and the restoration of all things.

The Good News is that this battle with God’s enemies and ours

HAS BEEN WON (the already motif) at the cross AND

ultimately WILL BE WON (the not yet)

at the final judgment day and

the restoration of all things.


Sidebar Note: The final state will be even greater than “paradise restored”. It will not be just the restoration of the “Garden” but the creation of a new city, a new heavens and new earth.

Now read through Psalm 2 and 110 (both very brief) in this light. There you’ll see how Israel, as a theocratic kingdom, with the one true God as their ultimate king, was not merely engaged in political warfare against their enemies, but also spiritual warfare–longing for Messiah (Christ) to reign over his and their enemies as their Warrior King restoring all his fallen people and creation.

The Psalms come alive when you read them in light of this perspective, understanding that: 1) the core of the gospel is the proclamation that “Our God reigns” over ALL our enemies (Is 52/Rom 10), and 2) we’re not living in a time of peace, but in a time of war, with multiple enemies, including the world (institutionalized sinful nature/corporate flesh), flesh (sinful human nature), Satan, death, hell, etc.–all resulting in our broken relationships with God, self, others, and creation.

A part of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that has always enthralled (hyperbole intended) me is from the section that expounds Jesus as Prophet, Priest, and King, and the sub-section that emphasizes the Good News of how Jesus presently carries out his office as our King. Here is WSC 26: Of Christ’s Kingly Office.

Question 26: How does Christ execute the office of a king?

Answer: Christ executes the office of a king, in subduing us to himself; in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.

I treasure these words and the rich, compelling image they convey of our benevolent, powerful, loving, courageous, king–first subduing US to himself and “ruling and defending us”, and then “restraining and conquering ALL HIS AND OUR ENEMIES.” See here the benevolent love of our valiant, warrior-king who gave his life to conquer ALL HIS and OUR enemies!

See here the benevolent love of our valiant,

warrior-king who gave his life to conquer

ALL HIS and OUR enemies!

Then start reading the Psalms understanding that Psalmists like King David and his enemies are meant by God to be pointing us to the greater king and the greater enemies. But let this also be a time when you begin to see, not just the beauty of the “Kingship Psalms”, but all the other unique genres found in the Psalter. Understanding the various genres of the Psalms is critically important for understanding the true depth of their meaning and application.

Tremper Longman (a prof/writer I regard highly at Westmont College in CA) has done an excellent job for many years teaching, preaching and writing about the the various Psalm genres, including hymns, laments (incl. enemy motifs), Thanksgiving Psalms, Confidence Psalms, Remembrance Psalms, Wisdom Psalms, Kingship Psalms (incl. divine warrior vs enemies).

When I thought about what books (in print) would meet your criteria of giving you a “framework” that’s not in the category of “DIFFICULT MATERIALS”, and be an “Intro to the Psalms” article or book written in a “decently accessible manner”, Tremper’s book came immediately to mind. It’s called “How to Read the Psalms” It’s rock-solid theologically, very brief (small paperback), and, yes, truly very readable and accessible. Here’s a summary of his book from the publisher to whet your appetite:

“The Psalms possess an enduring fascination for us. For frankness, directness, intensity and intimacy, they are unrivaled in all of Scripture. Somehow the psalmists seem to have anticipated all our awe, desires and frustrations. No wonder Christians have used the Psalms in worship from the earliest times to the present. Yet the Psalms cause us difficulties when we look at them closely. Their poetry is unfamiliar in form. Many images they use are foreign to us today. And the psalmists sometimes express thoughts that seem unworthy of Scripture. 

Tremper Longman gives us the kind of help we need to overcome the distance between the psalmists’ world and ours. He explains the various kinds of psalms, the way they were used in Hebrew worship and their relationship to the rest of the Old Testament. Then he looks at how Christians can appropriate their message and insights today. Turning to the art of Old Testament poetry, he explains the use of parallelism and imagery. Step-by-step suggestions for interpretating the psalms on our own are followed by exercises for further study and reflection. Also included is a helpful guide to commentaries on the Psalms. Here is a book for all those who long to better understand these mirrors of the soul.”

So, your assignment is to purchase this book, read it thoughtfully and critically, and let me know if you have any questions, etc.

And I love you so much more!!!!!!!

Your Papa

PS: Get the book. It only costs about $10.00. Here’s the link.

___________________________

Dad,

Thank you (and my future copy of Tremper) for saving me from what could have been some extremely ill hermeneuticing!

Looking to forward to the scary, astonishing journey of it all.

Laura

___________________________

Laura,

Me too sweetheart.

Thanks for giving me the privilege of joining you on this “scary, astonishing journey.”

I love you!

dad

___________________________

Follow Steve on Twitter and Facebook