My first dip into the Bible was Psalm 23. It starts with “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I discovered its comfort when I was a kid wracked with irrational fears and anxieties. Goodness and mercy following me. Restoring my soul. Not fearing. Yes, please!
Although filled with thous and shalls, the language did speak to the needs of the human and the help and comfort of God.
Not all Psalms are like the 23rd. And not all translations are the same. Here are two of Psalm 23’s verses from the Message Bible:
“You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head, my cup brims with blessing.
Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.”
The band U2 plays a beautiful, haunting song called 40. They close every concert with it. “I will sing, sing a new song…” It’s Psalm 40. The lead singer Bono frequently reads a passage of Psalm 116 from the Message at the beginning of concerts.
“What can I give back to God for the blessings he’s poured on me? I’ll lift high the cup of salvation – a toast to God! I’ll pray the name of God; I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do, and I’ll do it together with his people.”
I found this interview between Bono and Eugene Peterson, who paraphrased the Bible into the “accurate, but readable” Message translation. They met at Peterson’s home in Flathead Lake, Montana in 2015. They both share their love of the Psalms and its impact on their prayer life, artistic life, and ability to be real before God.
Peterson says as a boy of 12 he read the Psalms with confusion because his religious tradition said every word in the Bible was the word of God literally and you didn’t mess with it. But he was reading about God keeping his tears in a bottle and being a rock.
“I learned what a metaphor was not by knowing the name but just by observing the Psalms,” he said, adding that he learned “imagination was a way to get inside the truth.”
Bono knew of the Psalms as a child too but in the context of hymns in his Church of Ireland upbringing. He found “rawness and brutal honesty, explosive joy and deep sorrow and confusion.”
Peterson originally began translating the Psalms for a certain person hoping for them to realize praying isn’t necessarily being nice before God but honest, which people find a hard thing.
Dishonesty, on the other hand, in Christian art is alarming to Bono. He wants to see more vulnerability which is being porous to God, and is a good thing.
“God wants truth. It’ll set you free and blow you apart,” he said noting that he’s suspicious of Christians who lack realism in art, in life, and in music.
“Feelings are perfectly normal, and you have to let them out,” Bono said. He gave the example of David who danced naked with joy before the troops even though it irked his wife. He thinks abandonment is an important feeling to get out.
According to Peterson finding a way to cuss without cussing is important and says the imprecatory psalms found a way to do this. He stresses the need to find “some way in context to tell people how mad we are.”
[Imprecatory psalms seek God’s righteous judgment on evildoers and seem to contradict the whole message of the Bible. Knowing the futility of judging others, you might scratch your head at the alarming requests of these psalms. But it’s a raw, honest way of asking to be delivered from evil.]
Bono isn’t disturbed at the Old Testament: “I don’t see God as a violent God but I think the world is a violent place and it does reflect that. It’s terrifying but real.”
The video of Bono and Eugene Peterson takes a little more than 20 minutes. Below is U2 performing 40 at Red Rocks outside of Denver.