"This book helped me to unlock the meaning of the psalms, to which I had been praying mostly in vain for some time. . ."
Christ In The Psalms by Father Patrick Henry Reardon, an Antiochian Orthodox priest in Chicago, gives a two-page Orthodox interpretation of every psalm in the Bible. The book points out to the faithful where Lord Jesus Christ can be found in the psalms and which are spoken to us through His voice. This book helped me to unlock the meaning of the psalms, to which I had been praying mostly in vain for some time.
God gives you the freedom to participate in a life of evil
Three times in this passage [Psalm 6], the Apostle Paul pounds the point home: paradoken autous ho Theos—“God gave them up…” (Rom. 1: 24, 26, 28). In this, then, consists the wrath of God: that He turns man loose, that he lets man go, hands him over, that He abandons man to his own choice of evil.
[Psalm 35 (36)] commences with the sinner’s perverse delight in evil—those things traditionally called “the devices and desire of our own hearts.” Man does not simply fall into evil. His perversity is a veritable project of his mind, the object of an intentional strategy. He can be said to lie awake at night figuring out new ways to work evil: “he devises wickedness on his bed.”
[Psalm 35 (36)] describes [the evil] man: (1) “There is no fear of God before his eyes;” (2) “He deceives himself;” (3) “The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit;” (4) “He has ceased to be wise and to do good;” (5) “He devises wickedness on his bed;” (6) “He sets himself on a way that is not good;” (7) “He does not abhor evil.”
When I was beginning to live a life of evil, God did not put a stop to it. He did not blockade my path. I had full rights as a human being with free will to commit all sorts of depravities, but the consequences of sin eventually caught up to me, and I felt compelled to do an evaluation of my life and the state of my soul.
Power of the Psalter
…there are virtually no situations in the moral life for which the psalmist provides no appropriate words of prayer, that the Psalter is a veritable mirror, as it were, of the human spirit facing the manifold and varying conditions of our destiny.
Don’t go with the flow
…a priori we know that going up is more difficult than going down. Therefore we would be rightly suspicious of any response suggesting acquiescence in the aboriginal gravity of our fallen state. “Doing what comes naturally” is scarcely the path to ascent. To “go with the flow” is invariably to go lower. Whatever the answer to the moral question, then, we can be certain that it will involve stern effort, struggle, adherence to irrevocable duty.
Only dead fish, the spiritually dead, go with the flow of the secular river.
God’s revelation to man
The Christian faith recognizes two ways in which God has made His revelation to us: through nature and through grace. “Through Creation and through Holy Scripture” is another way of saying the same thing. These are the two means that God has given us through which we know Him.
Starting with the inspired Scriptures, sometimes Christians have reached back, as it were, to speak of nature itself as a sort of book, a scared scroll in which God is revealed. Nature itself provides a “text,” analogous to Holy Write. For example, a twelfth-century Englishman, Alexander Neckam, said that “the world is inscribed with the pen of God; for anyone who understands it, it is a work of literature,” while a contemporary, the Parisian master Richard of St. Victor, said that “the whole of this sensible world is like a book written by the finger of God.” Similarly, Garnier of Rochefort, in the same century, said that God speaks to us through two books, nature and the Law (Torah).
The Bible is a book of salvation. Its dominant theme, above all things, is deliverance. Its varied components, written and edited in different cultural settings over many centuries and in places as diverse as Mesopotamia and Rome, are collected into one volume under a single unifying head: soteriology, the study of salvation.
Christ identifies as a sinner becomes he takes on our own sins
[Psalm 40 (41)] goes on to describe Christ’s compassionate assumption of our sinful condition—identification of the Sinless One with sinners: “I said: ‘Lord, be merciful to me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.'” Here we have the voice of the one of whom St Paul said: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
We need God’s help
Men are helpless, if left to their own capacities and accomplishments, and they are foolish to imagine otherwise. We human beings are so thoroughly infected by the results of sin that, unless God intervenes in our misery and takes a hand in our destiny, our inevitable lot is despair. None of us can measure up, no, not one. Whether Jew or Gentile, “there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22, 23).
I’ve said many times before that, on my own power, I could not even quit a one-cup-a-day coffee habit. How about quitting a lifelong addiction to sexual pleasure, and the feelings of pride alongside physical dependency on alcohol? Forget it. My willpower was only good enough to postpone pleasure for a short while to experience more pleasure in the near future.
Salvation is of God
We do not have it within us to find God. We do not have it within us even to begin looking for God. We do not have it within us even to want to look for God. Adam and Eve, with the taste of the forbidden fruit still in their mouths, were not searching for God; they were hiding from Him, and so do we all. Left to our own resources, none of us can do better than to conceal ourselves in the bushes, with our bare behinds hanging out, hoping that God will pass us by.
…in the strict sense, the true God cannot even be searched for; he can be sought only in the measure that He reveals Himself in holy grace. Whatever searching for God is undertaken by sinful human beings when left to their own devices will invariably involve idolatry—the setting up of false gods in human resemblance…
Christian devotion begins on the basis of God’s own self-revelation in holy grace. Worship is our Spirit-given response to God’s saving intervention in our destiny.
The Lord’s Passion
[Psalm 114 (116A)] and so many other psalms testify that the Lord’s Passion was a sustained act of worship. This interpretation of His death was perfectly obvious to the early Christians, who said of Christ that “He offered up Himself” (Heb. 7:27), and who spoke of “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10), and who describe His self-oblation as “an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:2).
This is the language of the temple and of the sacrificial worship, and we are probably so accustomed to hearing it that we have lost all sense of how terribly strange and improbably it must have sounded when the Christians first began to speak this way of the unjust death inflicted on a just man. This event outsiders would have considered as, at best, a great tragedy, but for the Christian mind the death of Jesus was not a mere miscarriage of human justice; it was the supreme act of worship that endowed all mankind with God’s justice. It was the single deed of such condign and consummate devotion as to render possible humanity’s access to God for all time and into eternity.
Mistake of the Jews
One of ancient Israel’s great mistakes, exemplified during the lifetime of Jeremiah and vigorously condemned by him, was to regard these blessings of protection and peace in a political sense, as though Jerusalem benefited from some kind of automatic geopolitical immunity from harm, no matter how wicked its ways and unrighteous the lives of its inhabitants.
Many powerful Jews seem to still maintain this belief, that any truthful criticism of their political power or social engineering schemes is anti-Semitism, a term that has often been used against me, and that we should shut up and let them dominate the public sphere in any way they desire.
Do cities have God?
The city was fallen man’s idea. The first city was founded by the first murderer. Indeed, the first city was founded by the first fratricide, a fact that becomes the most ironical of archetypes. The irony was certainly not lost on St. Augustine, who commented at some length on the manifest travesty that such a great enterprise of brotherly cooperation should be started by a man who killed his brother. In his lengthy The City of God, the saintly bishop of Hippo went on to compare Cain’s founding of the city of Enoch (cf. Gen. 4:17) to the founding of the city of Rome by Romulus, who had killed Remus, his own brother. The second city mentioned in Holy Scripture, Babel, was likewise an expression of man’s rebellion against God. Holy Scripture, in speaking of such things, only calls attention to a fact that any of us can observe with minimum effort—that cities can be unpleasant, dangerous, and even violent places to live.
It’s no surprise that one of my first inclinations after returning to Christ was to get out of the city and flee to the mountains.
What is the purpose of prayer?
…the final purpose of prayer is not spiritual consolation. It is, rather, the gift of oneself to God—the placing of one’s life in God’s will.
Because the Lord confers so much joy on our serious, disciplined quest for prayer, it can happen that the desire for spiritual comfort may replace the desire for God. A person may come to prayer, no longer to place himself in God’s will, but in order simply to experience the joy of praying.
At various times in our life in Christ, the Lord will thwart prayer of this sort, because it has become just a subtler form of selfishness. The Holy Spirit will hold back the warm blessings normally attendant on prayer, precisely in order to concentrate one’s attention on God, and not on himself.
This book positively transformed my understanding of the psalms, both during my private prayer using the popular Psalter According to the Seventy and when the psalms are recited in church during Liturgy or Vigil. It also has led me to Father Patrick Reardon’s All Saints Homilies podcast, which appeals to my more cerebral orientation.
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