Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Monday 18 August 2008

Analyzing Deer

I've been a Christian for nearly 16 years now and sometimes I'm concerned I'm finding it a bit stale. Bible studies, sermons, reading --- sometimes I feel like I've heard it all before. This is dangerous since I'm not nearly the saint I ought to be --- a lot of what I've heard I need to hear again, and do a better job of applying!

I can see several ways to try to grapple with this. One is to take on fresh challenges, and that's happening a little bit. With growing kids you can't really avoid it :-). Another way is to vary the routine and do things differently.

One little experiment I'm trying with a few friends, as a new topic of study, is to dig into some popular Christian songs, ancient and modern, and understand what they're really about. It's easy to sing along with your brain somewhat disengaged, taking it all far too lightly, or in some cases missing the point altogether (especially with the older hymns where the meaning has not carried over well into modern English), so I think it might be useful (and fun) to dig deeper for a change.

For example, "As The Deer" is quite popular:

As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you.

You alone are my heart's desire and I long to worship you.

You alone are my strength, my shield, to you alone may my spirit yield.

You alone are my heart's desire and I long to worship You.

It plays as an uplifting, joyful song of worship. But the first line is straight from Psalm 42, and the context of the whole psalm is actually very harsh --- "My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, 'Where is your God?'". This is not a happy Bambi* deer situation; the psalmist is at rock bottom, the "panting for water" is sheer desperation, someone in the desert at the end of their rope. Thinking of it that way definitely gives the song a different feel.

The rest of the song doesn't get any easier. "You alone are my heart's desire" --- who loves God so much more than anything else that they can honestly sing that? Not me. Most days I'm considerably more animated by a desire to fix Gecko bugs than by love of God. Now, the easiest way for me to make that line true would be to play it cool and disengage emotionally what's around me, but that's definitely not the right idea; we're supposed to love God more, not others less. In fact, as far as I know, the most direct way to where I need to be is to be clobbered by a huge tragedy or crisis, which is presumably how we got Psalm 42. (That would help with the "stale" problem too.) But I'm not too keen on that, so, er, I'll try taking the long way around, thanks!

Of course, songs are not authoritative, so part of the job is evaluating where the songwriter might have got it wrong. Bummer if your favourite song turns out to be heresy. "As The Deer" seems OK.

* Yes, I'm aware that Bambi itself is not the happy deer situation pop culture remembers. It's rather ironic.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts. In my case it was Psalm 91 triggering such questions and thoughts.
St. Augustine
Read my books. They're awesome!
If you are feeling a bit stale, may I suggest an alternative?
Atheism is not the demon that it is made out to be, especially considering what could amount to the single most important story in the Christian Bible (the story of the resurrection) has numerous contradictions between the six places it is mentioned.
Between Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts and 1 Corinthians, the Christian Bible can't agree with itself about the resurrection.
(Just for reference:
Matthew 28
Mark 16
Luke 24
John 20-21
Acts 1, 3-12
1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
If the Christian Bible can't agree with itself about what amounts to the most important story (after all, if Jesus was not resurrected, then the entire faith is moot), then what else has it gotten wrong?
I might recommend reading through http://www.ffrf.org/books/lfif/?t=stone
There are far more contradictions in the Christian Bible, just as there are numerous critical contradictions within the Islamic Koran and the Jewish Torah, as well.
All you have to do is read your Bible to see those verses. Surely no god could fault you for reading its own Holy Writ, right?
> "I'm not nearly the saint I ought to be"
And this is maybe the problem. You are probably in desperate need to hear things over and over as you cannot keep them in your memory/heart. As we say in our country: "Repeating is the mother of wisdom".
Drill and routine is boring. But think about it as a soldier. Drill, drill, drill... routine, routine, routine. Do you know how many times the soldier's life was saved just because of this boring and repetitive drill? Maybe it will safe your life too. ;-)
We have another saying: "Hard times on drilling ground - easy times on battle ground." (where "hard times" is not meant as "funny times")
Harm Hilvers
"Now, the easiest way for me to make that line true would be to play it cool and disengage emotionally what's around me, but that's definitely not the right idea; we're supposed to love God more, not others less."
Exactly! That's precisely *not* what's meant by being a Christian! Living itself is an act which can bring us closer to God, just by living it. Nothing more, nothing less. Just by working, loving, playing, creating, writing, thinking, giving and so on, we can be children of God. It's not disengagement from society, the world, or from all that's around us that brings us closer to God, since in such a situation it's easily forgotten that we as Christians have a creational and divine task in *this* world.
Tony Chung
Hey roc, big props to you for sharing your faith and thoughts on your blog! i too struggle with stalemate christian walk at times, and getting more energized from testing software or any other distractions. I am encouraged by your post, and look forward to seeing more, especially posted out on planet! -Tony
I recently did a study on Psalm 42 as well. Yes I feel like you at the moment.
One of the things that came out of the study was that it although its depressing, its also can be comforting as well - someone (possibly David in this case) has been there before us, its not just us in the 21st century feeling this way, but someone 2000-odd years ago, so we're not the only ones.
I think its times like this where we have to live by hope and faith, Hebrews 11 was referenced in our study, it starts "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval."
Its hard, but I'm encouraged by the fact you're already trying to do something about it (looking at songs in a new way), seek and you will find.
Robert O'Callahan
Thanks, Augustine, I loved "Confessions"!
Involved: I was an atheist for a long time. I looked at those issues before I switched. I agree some of them are puzzling, but most of them are blown all out of proportion. There are interesting things in favour of the resurrection narratives, such as the fact that writers of the day would not have made up stories about women finding an empty tomb since women were not considered reliable witnesses.
Tony: I was going to say that this wouldn't show up on planet because I think p.m.o should be for Mozilla stuff, and I deliberately didn't tag this post as "Mozilla". Now I notice that it showed up on planet anyway. Oh well.
I didn't mean this post to sound despondent; I don't feel despondent. More teeth-gritted :-).
Catch the enthymeme (or invent it)
You alone [among all gods] are my heart's desire
Robert, that "Mozilla tag issue" should have been one twisted kind of answer to your boring routine question, it seems ...
Maybe the lyrics of the Crash Test Dummies aren't so way off and have some deeper sense of the many facets of God than we often think or allow ourselves to think.
Please keep posting.
@Robert: I agree that the discovery of the tomb by women is noteworthy. Other types of evidence in favor of the resurrection story seem to be along this line. Surely this doesn't even approach the realm of evidence necessary to support the claim that the natural order was suspended?
South Indian mystic Sathya Sai Baba has millions of followers, and tens of thousands of whom -- still alive today, available for questioning -- will give first-hand testimony as to the veracity of the miracles performed by him. Isn't this far more compelling eye-witness evidence than the gospel accounts of Jesus?
Sai Baba barely merits an hour on the Discovery Channel. I've never understood why Christians don't demand the same level of evidence for Jesus as they do for the claims made of those like Sai Baba.
Corey Farwell
Why is there religious nonsense in Mozilla Planet?
Robert O'Callahan
Good hard question, Tack. One reason is that with mass media, video and audio recording, scientific analysis and plain proximity in time, of course we should expect to possess much better evidence of a miraculous event occurring today than of a miraculous event that occurred two millennia ago.
Another difference is context. It seems that Jesus' followers didn't expect a resurrection and were very shocked and surprised (despite what he'd told them). That's a harder mindset than people who go to a show expecting to see miracles.
And another difference is the act itself. Even David Blaine hasn't tried crucifying himself yet.
Another, bigger issue is that the resurrection isn't an isolated miraculous event. It means something. It's part of a theological framework. It's not a isolated, freak disruption of the natural order as much as something that *had* to happen. (In fact, most miracles in the Bible do have a larger purpose, and Jesus is pretty angry with people who just want to see a show.) We're all very skeptical of events for which there seem to be no possible mechanism or justification, but that's not the case here.
Chant Hare Krishna and be happy.