Guests: and

Leading Question: What is it like to be truly and deeply heard?

Scripture Focus: Psalm 34, Exodus 2:23-25, Exodus 3:7-8, Psalm 17:8, Psalm 44, Psalm 80

The Big Idea: Throughout the Bible, God is described in anthropomorphic terms. God has ears that hear and eyes that see and a brain that knows and hands that act. These depictions of God in terms of human body parts and actions are used to show God’s deliverance and also the pain of not experiencing expected deliverance.

For Discussion:

In Psalm 34, God hears the cry of the righteous and delivers them. This progression harkens back to one of ancient Israel’s foundation stories—the story of the exodus. God heard the cries of the Israelites and saw their misery and “came down to rescue them” (Exodus 2:23-25; 3:7-8).

When God sees, God acts. The tight interplay between these two things is depicted memorably in the phrase “keep me as the apple of your eye” in Psalm 17:8. In Hebrew, this phrase reads “the little human in your eye.” I still remember the first time my daughter said, “Mama, I see myself in your eyes.” The writer of Psalm 17 seems to be drawing on the experience of being face to face and seeing a tiny version of oneself in the pupil of another person’s eye.

Discussion question: As humans, we long to be fully seen and known, and fully loved; yet we often have the sense that if someone really knew us, they would not love us. What do you think is made possible by the experience of being seen, being heard, and being fully known without that leading to a rupture in relationship?

The relationship between God hearing the people’s cries and delivering them is so foundational to the collective identity of the people that many of the communal laments found in the book of Psalms (see for example, Psalms 44, 74, 79, 80, 90) put into words the agony felt when God’s deliverance seems far off, when it seems like God does not see them, does not hear them, is no longer concerned about what they are going through.

Psalm 44:

ith our ears, O God;
  our ancestors have told us
 what you did in their days,
 in days long ago.
2 With your hand you drove out the nations
 and planted our ancestors;
 you crushed the peoples
 and made our ancestors flourish.
9 But now you have rejected and humbled us;
  you no longer go out with our armies.
10 You made us retreat before the enemy,
  and our adversaries have plundered us.
11 You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
  and have scattered us among the nations.
23 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
  Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face
  and forget our misery and oppression?
25 We are brought down to the dust;
  our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up and help us;
  rescue us because of your unfailing love.

Psalm 80:

14 Return to us, God Almighty!
  Look down from heaven and see!
  Watch over this vine,
15 the root your right hand has planted,
  the son you have raised up for yourself.
16 Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire;
  at your rebuke your people perish.
17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
  the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
18 Then we will not turn away from you;
  revive us, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, LORD God Almighty;
  make your face shine on us,
  that we may be saved.

Sometimes the people interpret their experiences and situate themselves within a larger storyline by describing themselves in relation to God’s face (For example, is God’s face turned toward them or away from them? Is punishment or deliverance flowing from God’s face?).

Discussion question: How is the imagery of the face of God used in these psalms? In what ways have you heard people in your communities draw on the imagery of God’s face?

The way the biblical texts describe human experience in terms of God’s hearing and acting seems to align with what psychologists say about how we make sense of our experience by telling stories about it or by weaving it into an existing story. For example, if someone cuts us off in traffic, we may say, “what a mean person, intentionally making my life miserable” or “that person must be going through something so tough that it’s hard for them to pay attention while driving.”

Eugene Peterson, in his discussion of story in the Psalms, writes: “Story making is creative work— demanding intense and personal involvement. . . the story maker enlists our imagination, the interiorization and integration of body and mind, which puts us on the threshold of prayer. God works with words. He uses them to make a story of salvation. He pulls us into the story. When we believe, we become willing participants in the plot. We can do this reluctantly and minimally, going through the motions; or we can do it recklessly and robustly, throwing ourselves into the relationships and actions. When we do this, we pray. We practice the words and phrases that make us fluent in the conversation that is at the center of the story. We develop the free responses that answer to the creating word of God in and around us that is making a salvation story” (Answering God, p. 56).

Discussion question: Does the storytelling in the Psalms “put you on the threshold of prayer”? If so, in what ways? And does it make a difference if you are engaging with the psalms alone or in the company of others?

Comments are closed.