It was a sad day in the history of the church when Paul’s statement about being “all things to all men” first came to be seen not as a call to diversity but as a claim of versatility. St. Paul the Jewish apostle to the gentiles turned into Reverend Paul the Jack of all trades.
Then she was my high school sweetheart, now she is my wife of 25 years, but we still laugh about that evening when, sitting close on the couch in my living room, we were momentarily startled by a raucous noise directly overhead. Groaning and banging like a poltergeist, something seemed about to take the roof off the house, not to mention the glow off the evening.
Sometimes the point of scripture is the transcendence of the Holy One. This was something Isaiah knew well—“Truly, you are a God who hides yourself” (45: 15) —as did the long-suffering Job. So did Paul, who comes to a point in his Epistle to the Romans when he realizes he cannot go any further. “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom of God!” he writes.
Traditional Christian appropriation of the Hebrew scriptures often flattens them. Stories become precursors of later New Testament events rather than genuine events in themselves. Vivid multidimensional characters become mere prefigurations instead of figures in their own right, and complex narrative situations are reduced to a single theological point.
The Psalms have always functioned as a book of common prayer. But there is also a long history of turning to the Psalter as a sourcebook for poetry. It is not difficult to see why. Many of the psalms foreground the act of speech or song—the activity of utterance itself—as the chief end of everything that has breath.