The church prays Psalm 3, saying:
Lord, how are they increased that trouble me!
Many are they that rise up against me.
Many there be which say of my soul, there is no help for him in God.
But Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; My glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, And He heard me out of His holy hill.
I laid me down and slept;
I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, That have set themselves against me round about.
Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God:
For Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone;
Thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.
Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: Thy blessing is upon Thy people.
Christians have prayed this prayer many times, reciting or reading it. But should they?
I want to ask a simple question but I’m not sure how. Let me try it practically: Is it fitting for you as a Christian to pray this prayer? Let me ask analytically: can we see the “ten thousands of people” as demons? These are the same question in that both ask a larger question: what kind of world do we live in?
Is it a world in which the material is ultimate and only people trying to hurt you physically can be considered your enemies? Or is there some other realm just as real, of which the material is a manifestation but not an exact likeness.
Do we live in a naturalistic a-cosmos in which power rises against power producing, by some unapprehended logic, the wonders of the world we live in?
Or might we live in a magical cosmos – in a sort of Hegelian dialectic where some transcendental force works in and through events (thesis battles antithesis, releasing new glories in a synthesis of creative destruction).
Or might we, in fact, live in a world that is an image?
King David lived in an image. He could speak of ten thousand people surrounding him quite physically (I will not say “literally”). There they were and he could see them. Opposition arose time and again, sometimes ten thousand people.
When David spoke of the holy hill whence God heard his cry, he had a specific place in mind, bearing all the antiquity of Abraham’s offering and all the freshness of his own temple-building resolution.
So was that all David had in mind? Was he thinking only of a physical mountain on which Jerusalem would be built and on which a temple would manifest the glory of God to the nations? Did he have in mind only ten thousand human people surrounding him?
David himself stretches the physical interpretation when he says in verse three, “Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me.” Surely he doesn’t mean that he walks around with a round or octagonal version of God attached to his wrist. God shares a quality with a shield: He will preserve David from harm.
Clearly, metaphors are used throughout the poetry of the Psalms and Proverbs and common sense helps us understand them 95% of the time. Does that justify sweeping the whole of Psalm 3 or the whole book of Psalms or even the whole Bible into some spiritualized interpretation that clouds the obvious and plain meaning?
Well, no, not if you put it like that. I would never want to lose sight of the obvious and plain meaning. But we can’t ignore the clues given throughout the Bible that God is not only talking about historical physical events. The whole Bible, from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22, presents reality as, ultimately, not a physical place, but as a temple of the living God. Yes, the physical is physical. But even it is not ultimately physical; it is meant to be spiritual. You could even say that our vocation as human priests is to offer the physical to God and by doing so to “spiritualize” it. It won’t lose its physicality but transcend it, finding and fulfilling its purpose (a house, still a house, becomes a house in which God lives – a temple).
Genesis 1-3 describes the creation of a temple and the placement and eviction of its priest. The same pattern is repeated in Exodus and throughout the Bible until we reach Revelation, where the temple of God, the very holy of holies, encompasses the whole cosmos.
This creation is a temple.
When we pray to “Our Father who art in heaven,” we don’t mean that He sits up on the clouds in a blue sky, but that He inhabits the holy place where His throne is surrounded by ten thousand times ten thousand angels. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Moses all saw it, and Hebrews shows that the earthly tabernacle and temple were an image of the eternal temple in the heavens.
There is an eternal heavenly temple that is the dwelling place of God and an eternal manifestation of His nature. The earth and the physical heavens are an imitation of this eternal temple (thus earth is His footstool, heaven His throne, etc.). The tabernacle and temple are specific imitations of the eternal temple because, having fallen, we can no longer see clearly the heavenly image in this earthly mess.
The church is the earthly fulfillment of the temple of God, in which the Holy Trinity takes His habitation by the Holy Spirit and the blood of Christ. It cannot be understood apart from its nature as temple. The spirit of man is the temple of God. Its inmost dimension is the holy of holies, possessing the Ark of the Covenant with the mercy seat sitting upon it and the law of God contained within it.
We do have a problem though: perhaps the first manifestation of God’s extraordinary humility is that He allowed the first priest to evict Him from His own temple. Since then He has stood at the door knocking, but He will only come in to those who open the door.
It is more natural to pray Psalm 3 analogically than
We are the temple. Within us is this holy hill. If God
is welcome there, He abides there and He hears us when
we cry to Him. But we are surrounded by “ten thousand people,” Those spiritual beings rise up against us with challenges and accusations, speaking directly to our souls, telling them, “There is no help for him in God.”
It is no “spiritualization” or “allegorical” interpretation to say with David, “Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.” The allegory would be to look at the people David fought and to think that it had actually happened to them.
Those spiritual beings speak, and that is all they can do now. They tell us lies. We don’t hear physical voices because they are hovering around that deep inaccessible part of our beings, the place where a still small voice keeps beckoning to us, simply and unobtrusively. They make as much noise as we allow them to make so we can’t hear the still small voice.
“There is no help for you in God.”
That is the one thing they most want us to hear. That way we’ll try to help ourselves. That way we’ll turn away from the one thing needful. They speak. But they speak with a disjointed jaw and broken teeth.
This is everything. Do you believe that you are the temple of the living God, living in a cosmic temple, whose task it is to receive into your inner sanctuary the God of life so that you can have, like the garden of Paradise, rivers of life flowing out of you into the four corners of the earth, renewing the whole earth with the life of the eternally living God?
Do you believe that the world around you is a temple and that you are the priest, called to offer it to God?
Do you teach your students as though they are temples and priests – images of the God of heaven and earth – or do you teach them like they are beavers whose highest calling is to build a house that dams up the river?
The cosmos is first a creation, a temple, a work of art; it is not a scientific experiment. We live in a cosmological analogy. That is the first step to understanding the cosmos, the human soul, or, for us, education. You can’t put things together by cutting them up.
And that makes all the difference.
We have the opportunity to offer our schools to God by thinking of them with the right analogies used appropriately.
First, we must subject analytical thought to analogical (i.e. to acknowledge the power of our governing analogies).
In particular, we must learn to think using sound
analogies in the following areas.
1. School governance and leadership. We tend to
use military and industrial analogies. We need to think with more humane and ancient analogies, such as farming, building a temple/house, and weaving.
2. Teaching. We need to teach analogically, under which I include mimetic and Socratic teaching. The goal of our teaching is love from a pure heart, and that pure heart is able to see both the whole and the right relations of the parts to each other. Administering information on behalf of a text book company or a state or accrediting agency might be necessary since as slaves we are told to submit to our masters. But we mustn’t do it without transcending it with more sound approaches.
3. Curriculum. A curriculum is already and always an analogy because it is the model of reality from which students learn as much or more as they do from the content. The curriculum that is not integrated lies to the children and confuses them. It must model the harmony of reality, giving due honor to each art and science and aligning the relationships among the arts and sciences.
We must recapture the Christian classical meaning of arts and sciences. An art is a mode of making something and a science is the knowledge made by the liberal arts. We must reexamine the nature, power, and limits of the natural sciences. I refer you to C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, lecture 3, paragraphs 22ff. for a discussion starter.
We must learn to treat the cosmos as a temple where the skies are spread out as a roof and the earth is
the King’s footstool. We must learn to view the soul of each student as the very Temple of the Living God, the center of which is the only place where the King of glory waits to sit on the Mercy Seat from which will flow rivers of life to the whole world
4. Assessment. We must not be governed, driven, or anxious over analytical assessments, which wrench student performance from its context and reduce it to something that can be measured. Again, we have to submit to our masters, but to be intimidated by them is distracting folly. We must realize that whoever assesses us is our boss, that assessment determines how we teach, and that conventional assessment undercuts the apprenticeship that characterizes a classical school (I specifically protest against standardized tests and the A-F grading approach, neither of which would ever have entered the mind of a classical educator prior to this age that is lost in the wrong metaphors).
5. Community: We cannot manufacture or produce a community. We can only nourish and grow one.
The fact that these are hard challenges is irrelevant. The child’s soul trumps all other needs. Teachers must
be hired, equipped, and valued based on their ability to nourish the children’s souls through the sound analogies that lead them on the path to truth, goodness, and beauty – without which they are lost, no matter how successful.