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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

The Christian journalist’s joy remarks (speech: Association of Christian College Media advisors)

(Note: This is a lecture I gave at a retreat for members the Association of Christian Colleges Media (ACCM) at the Carson-Newman College retreat center in Jefferson City, TN.)

There are portions of the Bible that seem to be written specifically for the Christian journalist. These portions don’t refer to various models of journalism or paradigms of reporting or definitions of writing from a Christian perspective. What these passages teach is the obligation of all Christians, particularly those gifted with the ability to deal with words. Psalm 145 is one of those portions of Scripture seemingly written for you and me. David’s great psalm of praise touches upon how important it is for one generation to pass on to future generations the story of God’s handiwork in this world He created and sustains.

*This psalm sings of general revelation, where all the creation is to recognize and worship God.

*It sings of God’s great kindness toward all He has created.

*It sings of the incomprehensibility of God and His wonderful and praiseworthy attributes.

I don’t think there are various views of Christian journalism. I believe the Bible, which is the standard of Christian life and faith, teaches very clearly what we Christian journalists are to do. Implementation of our privilege and duty is to be worked out in the newsroom, but the focus of our journalism is clearly stated.

We get a taste of what’s coming in this psalm of praise in the very first two verses when David uses the phrase “I will” four times: “I will exalt,” “I will praise,” “I will praise,” “I will extol.”  There are two different Hebrew words used here for “exalt,” “praise,” and “bless.” One word means “to bend the knee,” or “to kneel down,” and the other Hebrew word means “to boast,” “to celebrate,” “to glorify,” “to shine and make bright” – it’s this 2nd word from which we get the word “hallelujah.”

David is saying “every day” is a day of joyful celebration, which will last for eternity. If we rightly understand God, we will never cease to bask in His radiance with joyful thanksgiving.  God is great and so He should receive great praise and adoration from His creation — especially from His saints.It is interesting to note that praise is the only Christian activity which we presently do that we will always do. We now pray, we now believe by faith, we now hope – but these activities will one day cease. But not praise. We now experience days of waiting, and days of watching, and days of warring, and days of wanting, and days of weeping — but all these days will cease. But not days of praise. And then in vs. three we get this extraordinary phrase, “and of His greatness there is no search,” also translated, “but His greatness no one can fathom” or “His greatness is beyond our understanding.”  Here is the clear teaching of the incomprehensibleness of God. As Francis Schaeffer so often said, we can have true knowledge of God but not exhaustive knowledge of God.  And that is what David is proclaiming.How can we praise God, whose “greatness we cannot understand”?  We need to have illumined minds, which are informed of God’s greatness. God the Holy Spirit illumines our minds, but who informs our minds?  Who can give us “understanding”?  Preachers are to do so (Rom. 10:14-15). Parents are to so (Deut. 6:1-9).  And, scribes (journalists) are to do so.[1] 

And that is what vss. 4 through 12 tell us.

In vs. four, David gives this extraordinary recitation of what one “generation” of believers will teach a future “generation” of believers. He creates this wonderful picture of the tying of one “generation” to a future “generation” through the telling of the “great activities of a great God.”  Together, “generation” upon “generation” will make a wonderful record, account, history of God’s dealings with His creation. Each generation will contribute its own chapter to the history of the world.David is repeating what he has stated in Ps. 143:5.  The word “works” (maaseh) here refers to “creation” and is the same word translated in vss. 11 and 12 as “mighty powers,” “acts,” “signs,” “mighty doings,” “great things.” The general thrust of vss. 4-5 is told repeatedly throughout the Scriptures – the present “generation” of believers has an obligation and privilege of passing on to “another generation” the truths of God’s activity in the world (Ex. 12:26-27; 13:14-15; Deut. 6:7; 4:9; Josh. 4:21-24; Ps. 44:1-2; 78:3-7; Is. 38:19).  Look particularly at Ps. 71:16-18 (Ps. 22:30-31; 48:12-14; 75:1; 77:5; 102:18; 111:2-4; 118:17) which of the high and holy obligation of unrelated believers passing on to “another generation” of saints their eyewitness observations and interpretations of God’s “mighty acts” in history.

 Verse five has an interesting turn of phrase referring to God’s general revelation and His speaking the world into existence.  The phrase translated in English, “I will meditate on your wonderful works” in the Hebrew is really, “I will meditate on the words of your wonderful works” or “I will meditate on the word of your wonders.”  The power God gives the word is on display here – a point to be reckoned with by Christian journalists.  The non-physical word is spoken and physical things happen.  The main point here is that God’s creation tells a story to all rational creatures in such a way that no one can plead ignorance. Paul confirms just this in Romans 1 and 2 and in Acts 14:14 and 17. Ignorance is no defense before the bar of God (Lev. 4:1, 11; etc.).

Verses 4 through 7 have a Greek chorus kind of symmetry and flavor to them; we see the plural and the singular sometimes alternating. The verses have a “they say” — “I say” exchange.  

Verse six contains a very interesting contrast that is not clear in the NIV translation. I don’t want to build too much on this one verse because the Hebrew is not absolutely definite, but the KJ has an interesting and permitted contrast. It reads,

“And men shall speak of the might of your terrible acts, and I will declare your greatness.” 

What we have here, and I am not alone in seeing this verse in this light, is a contrast between a correct understanding of historical events from God’s perspective and an incorrect, lack of understanding of historical events from the human perspective.  Did not the secularists see and hear simple nature (“thunder”) when God’s people heard the voice of God (John 12:29)?  Look it! — secularist journalists prefer crises to comfort.  Did not men in the Lord’s day speak of the falling tower of Siloam (Luke 13:4) and the slaughtered Galileans (Luke 13:1)?  Are there not rumors of wars (Matt. 24:6), and not even whispers of more pleasant things?  Horrible news is sure to spread.  When we experience God’s mercy we are closed mouth, but when we are miserable we raise an outcry.  Dread loosens the tongue – satisfaction locks the tongue.  We are sure to talk of that which makes the ear tingle for gossip and the hair stand on end. So verse six tells us that while men are preoccupied with God’s ”awesome works” (or “terrible acts”)[2] , David looks on these awesome historical events as divine acts of providential kindness and mercy and greatness. What is awful and terrible to one group is merciful and redemptive to another group. And David says that he will tell the future generations of these great things God has done.  Furthermore, David says this telling is the occupation of great devotion – to be a herald, that is, to rehearse the “great doings” of our “great God.”  We are not to leave this historical recounting to the secularists, but we are to personally make a declaration of what we Christian journalists have seen and heard and come to know through the illumination of God (Luke 1:1-4; 1 John 1:1).  We are to do this for the encouragement of believers (Ps. 42; 89 – Hymn: “My Song Forever Shall Record”), and as a warning to unbelievers, who provoke the great God. As this wonderful story of a sovereign God is passed down from “generation” to “generation,” we have no fear that the Church incense will ever cease to burn upon the altar of Jehovah (Rev. 8:4). God Himself will not permit Himself to be without a human voice of testimony (Luke 19:40; Jer. 20:7-18; Jonah 1:1-3).

David now shifts the focus a bit from the “commending,” “telling,” “speaking,” ”praising,” “declaring,” “uttering,” “singing,” and “celebrating” of the saints, to the character of whom we “declare” and ”speak” – God. Up to now David has been singing that God is “great” and “mighty” and ”majestic.”  Those qualities, however, when they are applied to God, are impossible to “understand” or “fathom.”  But now David gets specific and gives us qualities of character that we can comprehend. In vss. 8-9, David gives us the moral attributes of God, which are the summit of this psalm – the emotional reason why this is the great praise psalm of all the collection of psalms. Calvin says that this passage is as clear and satisfactory a description of the nature of God as is given anywhere in the Scriptures.  The verses are a brief statement of God’s most important attribute. God is to “praised” and “proclaimed” because He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love, good to all, he has compassion on all he has made (cf, Ex. 34:6; Ps. 103:8). David is reminding us that God treats “all” His creatures with kindness, His human subjects with consideration, and His saints with favor. Here in this little two-verse parenthesis of praiseworthy platitudes, we see that kindness is the law of God’s world. The world was planned for happiness, and that which makes life bearable in the face of human sin and rebellion and misery is the great tenderness of our “great God” the Father.

In verse nine, we have this wonderful phrase “compassion” or “tender mercies”  (Latin = super omnia). God’s mercies are like a vaulted ceiling over the holy cathedral sanctuary of the world. The inference for His saints is this: everywhere within this created sanctuary, there is opportunity to exercise God’s mercy as His vice regents and ambassadors and priests to those creatures around us. What David is telling us here is that the sovereign Creator is never rough, nor forgetful, nor cruel.  God has done nothing to create disease or misery. Sickness and pain are not according to the original design and order, but rather are a result of a disordered world. Creation, when it left the holy Creator’s hand, was neither framed for disease or decay or death, nor was there to be discomfort and anguish. Rather, the creation was designed for human joy and peaceful communion with the Creator (Matt. 5:48). We humans ruined that state of affairs by our sin, but the Creator still seeks our good and alleviates the diseases and distresses into which we have plunged ourselves by our rebellion. The whole creation groans under the human-imposed burden of sin (Rom. 8:22). So God’s “everlasting” kindness is a delight to the creation.

 And that is what verse ten tells us as David returns to the “telling” of God’s “greatness” and “majesty.”  What we see in vs. ten is that “everything” God has made blesses Him.  “All your works” (“acts” – vss. 4, 12), or “all you have made” refers to His entire creation (Ps. 8:3, 6). The same Hebrew word translated here “acts” or “works” or “made” is translated elsewhere as “power” (Ps. 20:6) or “strength” (Eccles. 9:16). The reason David can so easily sing of the entire creation praising the Creator is because the skill, the beauty, the intricacy, the power manifested in the formation of each thing is itself a praise to God, and when a Christian journalist observes and understands the glorious creation, the Lord of creation is honored.Some creatures/things praise the Creator just by their being;other things praise the Creator by their well-being.Some beings praise the Creator by their mere existence;other beings praise the Creator by their will. David says that while the entire creation will praise God, only His saints can verbally “extol” His virtues.

Vss. 11 and 12 continue with the “extolling” of the saints, as David returns our attention to vs. one and celebrates God’s sovereign reign over His creation. The saints seem to sum up their proclamations as we talk of the “might” and the “glory” and the “splendor” of God’s “kingdom.”  Notice, again, the reference to God’s “mighty acts,” just as in vss. 4, 5 and 6. Notice also that this triad of vss. 10, 11, 12 has “all” creation praising God.  Generally the praise is a song without words because all creation sings it (10a), but here the praise is made articulate and linguistic by the conscious effort of saints rendering thankful expression through tongue and pen, and who better to do that praising than observant Christian journalists.I also see David giving clear support for general revelation in these verses, for without God’s “power” and “might” nothing could be created, and so creation an expression of the “loving kindness” and “glorious splendor” of His awesome and unfathomable power. I am reminded of Col. 1:15-20.

In vs. 12, David’s words can be applied specifically to Christian journalists: no one can write these holy histories but those who know the Holy One. Therefore, the saints must be the “reliable eyewitnesses” (Is. 8:2) and the transcribers of God’s “mighty acts” so that future “generations” of “all men” will know of God’s activities.  This transcribing of the “mighty acts” of a living God must be done for every age, because we sinful men and women have short memories concerning the things of God. We build bronze and marble and concrete statues and memorials to our human heroes (and we should), but our monuments to God are built with sand. Therefore, we must repeat and reiterate and retell and recapitulate to every generation what God is doing. David is urging some of us to be the scribes of the present, whose duty it is to keep the present and future generations in memory of the “great deeds” (“mighty acts”) which the Lord is doing today in our midst (cf, Ps. 78).[3] 

In the remaining verses (from 13 to 21), we see David unleashing his praises to celebrate God’s sovereignty over “all” God’s creation because David uses the conclusive word “all” or “every” 10 times in reference to creatures being subject to the Creator God. God has a concern for and takes care of His living creatures. Living creatures have needs, and these needs create desires, and the living God has suitable supplies on hand, which He freely gives to His creatures.  God does not close His hand to any needy thing. God’s providential care is always on watch. The loving hand of divine grace is never closed. Ps. 147:9 states, “He provides food for all the cattle and for all the young ravens when they call.” We humans are only a fraction of the total living population of the earth.  We are the most important fraction, the crown jewel of creation, but only a small part of animate nature. Who or what supplies the rest of the living world?  God’s “open hand” of providential kindness supplies. How does the human population survive all these centuries – with food, shelter, transportation, medical care, recreation, intellectual stimulation?  It is God’s common-grace, His orderly control over His created kingdom (Luke 6:33; Rom. 2:14-15; 13:1-5; etc.).  We Christian scribes are to give the correct interpretation of today’s events in light of God’s sovereign ordering of human culture and the animate world.

In vs. 20, lest the reader of this Psalm begins to think of God as a patsy, as a Being with no standards, a touchy, feely, warm and fuzzy, everybody-is-perfect-and-to-be-highly-regarded kind of being, David says otherwise. David tells us that while God provides amply for “all” His creation, and will sustain “all” His living creation while they live, there will be a day of judgment.  There will be a day of reckoning. Those who celebrate God’s “loving kindness” and “compassion” and “greatness” will continue to live, while those who enjoy His goodness but refuse to praise Him will be “destroyed.”  David’s message is not unique or new here.  The scriptures speak of the Lord’s guardianship of the good, and His demand for the weeding out of the wicked (Ps. 45:6-7 ). This verse reminds me of the great medieval French King, Phillip IV (The Fair), who had a shield emblazoned with a sword and an olive branch, with the Latin motto “Utrumque” – “one or the other.” God says the same thing – “war or peace.”  And it is the obligation of the Christian journalist to tell this part of the story as well.

In vs. 21, we come to the concluding summary of this wonderful psalm of praise. Once again we see all creation praising the Creator (as in vs. 10), but God’s special creation – those created in His image – give linguistic expression to this praise. I am reminded of the verse in the great Reginald Heber hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” which states “All thy works shall praise they name, in earth and sky and sea.” And this praising will go on “for ever and ever,” which means from “generation” to generation.

Conclusion

It is tempting for me to return to Uncle Mordicai’s word to Esther (Es. 4), when he tells her, “this is the reason you are in this place at this time – to honor God with bold faithfulness.”  In a hostile or indifferent media environment, humankind needs bold, faithful followers of Jesus to write the daily history of what God is doing in today’s world in a verifiable and accurate way.


[1] The word “herald” is beautifully suggestive. In ancient Greece (Homeric age), the herald partook of the character of an ambassador. He summoned the assembly and kept order in it.  He had charge of arrangements at sacrifices and festivals. The office of the heralds was sacred, and their persons inviolable; hence they were employed to bear messages between enemies. The symbol of their office was the heralds’ staff (caduceus), borne by Mercury, the herald-god. This was originally an olive branch with bands, which were afterward formed into snakes.[1]  Plato speaks of the fidelity entailed by the office of herald in 5th c. BC Athens: “If any herald or ambassador carry a false message to any other city, or bring back a false message from the city to which he is sent, or be proved to have brought back, whether from friends or enemies, in his capacity of herald or ambassador, what they have never said – let him be indicted for having offended, contrary to the laws in the sacred office and appointment of Hermes and Zeus, and let there be a penalty fixed which he shall suffer or pay if he be convicted” (Laws 12, 941). Asaph was the great Old Testament journalist (cf, Ps. 78) and Luke was the great New Testament journalist (Luke-Acts).In later times, the position of a herald as the messenger between nations at war was emphasized.  In Herodotus, the word “herald” is used as a synonym with “apostle.”[1]   A priestly house at Athens bore the name of “herald” (kapukes).  In the Old Testament, the herald is one who makes a loud, public proclamation, as in Hab. 2:2,  “Then the LORD replies, ‘Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it, for the revelation awaits an appointed time.’”  In public games, it was the herald’s function to announce the name and country of each competitor, and also the name, country and father of the victor (Dan. 3:4; 5:2). It was the voice of the herald which cried out in Is. 40:6-9,  “Prepare in the wilderness the way of Jehovah; make ready in the desert a highway for your God.”  In Hebrew, the word (azwdk = korouzo) means one that makes a proclamation or one who cries out. It is a Chaldean word.  In the New Testament, just as in Isaiah 8 where Jehovah employs a herald to promise to visit with new tokens of His grace those who are pictured as having returned from the Babylonian captivity, so Paul is God’s herald proclaiming to the nations the day of the Lord (khrusswv = “to proclaim,” 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11; 2 Peter 2:5).

[2] In the OT the “terrible acts” were phenomena such as the Noahic flood (2 Peter 2:5), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Peter 2:6), the plagues of Egypt, and the slaughter at the Red Sea.

[3] Vs. 13 seems to be a parenthesis in that David ceases to talk of “telling,” and begins musing over God’s “kingdom.”  He repeats what he has said in vss. 1 and 2, lest we forget that God’s rule and reign is not temporal or temporary, but “everlasting” and complete. There has been nothing and there will be nothing which or who is not under God’s control and power.  This is a far different situation than David’s reign over Israel. When I read vs. 13, I see order and stability and regularity and consistency in the world because there is only one ruler, only one authority. This one ruler issues all the binding edicts and laws and regulations, and if one knows this ruler’s administrative code, one understands how the world works. Remember, vs. 3 tells us we can’t know everything, but we can know something, and what we know can be true.  The secularists see only chaos and randomness and relativity, but we Christians see certainty, order and purpose.

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