Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Apocolypse and Bob Dylan's Psalms

Ever since I was a small child, I've been a Bob Dylan fan. His new album is coming out on September 11th and I thought I would take the time to listen to all of his albums in chronological order--some of which I had never heard before. What I noticed is that all of Dylan's best songs all tend to be ambiguous. Hurricane may have been an interesting song when it was released and may even have helped to get someone out of jail but it's not moving in the same way that A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall is. Masters of War was written in reaction to the weapons companies that were profiting from the Cold War but the song remains relevant because it's not lyrically bound to the Cold War. With God on Our Side remains relevant because many still ignore atrocities committed by their country with the excuse that God is on their side. Along with being ambiguous when it comes to the event, they also approach the subject from an unusual angle that results in deeper thought. "She Loves You" by the Beatles is ambiguous enough to be applied to many relationships but doesn't result in the same type of deep thought that Dylan's Just Like a Woman does. Dylan has always been reluctant to reveal who or what the song is actually about and I think it's better that he doesn't. When Just Like a Woman is revealed to be about one particular woman it ceases to be relevant for anyone but Bob Dylan.

There's a similar problem I've seen in both the interpretation of the Book of Revelation and the Psalms. Some interpret the book of Revelation as being almost entirely about the future and others interpret it as being entirely about the past. Both groups miss out the richness of the language and present comfort that it provides. The book is so amazing because it is able to communicate to the church in every age. Every generation sees the monstrous figures all around them that we find in the Book of Revelation and every generation is given the comfort that the Lamb is still winning. Strangely enough, when Dylan went through his "born again" phase he seemed to miss this as well. Some of his concert footage during that period you can here him warning people about Armageddon and presenting them with a dispensationalist view of eschatology. After Dylan's "born again" phase he started supporting Judaism and his current religious beliefs are unclear. Strangely enough, Thunder on the Mountain which is one of his relatively recent songs contains apocalyptic imagery in a way that is actually more in keeping with the way that Revelation presents it than his songs were during his "born again" period. You get the sense that he's probably making some references to the 9/11 attacks but not in such a way that it's tied completely to the 9/11 attacks. The song will remain relevant when people don't think so much about 9/11 anymore.

When I'm discussion theology the subject of infant faith will come up on occasion. I'll point people to Psalm 22 and am almost always told that this is a Messianic Psalm and so it only applies to Jesus. In the first place, there are no non-Messianic Psalms. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of all the Psalms. But none of the Psalms are only about Jesus. The Psalms are also true expression of the life of the person who penned them. However, the Psalms were also written by David and the other authors to be sung by all Israel and later by every Christian. You miss the meaning and purpose of the Psalms if you insist on making only about the person who wrote them or only about Jesus. Jesus exhibits faith in God as a young infant in most perfect sort of way but that doesn't mean He's the only one who hoped in God while on His mother's breasts. The Psalms used to be the hymnbook of the church. The fact that they no longer serve that purpose in many churches is part of the problem. So you find people reading Psalm 51 as if it's just David telling us about how he repented after sinning with Bathsheba and then we can sit around and discuss whether or not it's possible for a "real" New Testament Christian to fall into these kinds of sins since we have been given the Holy Spirit. But it's not included in the Book of Psalms for that purpose. It's included so that you can sing it as your own experience. If it's sung as your own experience the answer to the question is pretty obvious. I was watching the great documentary about Bob Dylan called No Direction Home. In one section, Joan Baez talks about how Bob Dylan wrote When the Ship Comes In after being refused a room at a hotel. It's a wonderful imprecatory song. Later on in the documentary Bob Dylan is performing "When the Ship Comes In" at the historic March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I have a Dream" speech. The song perfectly fits that context as well but would have seemed silly if people knew that Dylan had originally wrote it after being refused a hotel room. They may have even been insulted to think that Dylan was comparing his petty annoyances to the sufferings that people experienced due to racism. But because the original context was unknown, the song was very powerful.

I'm not suggesting that we should close our eyes to the original historical context of Revelation or the Psalms. However, we will likely miss the point of both if that's all we see. The Book of Psalms and Revelation are given to us by Christ for our comfort.


covnitkepr1 said...

The Bible says that we are "Blessed" when/by reading the book of Revelation.

Just checking back for any new posts you may have written.
I’ve been a follower on your blog for a while now and would like to invite you to visit and perhaps follow me back. Sorry I took so long for the invitation.

Andrew said...

I had to laugh at:

"people reading Psalm 51... and then ... discuss whether or not it's possible for a "real" New Testament Christian to fall into these kinds of sins since we have been given the Holy Spirit."

that was one of our assignments for Pneumatology class at an Evangelical Bible College I went to.

covnitkepr1 said...

Just checking back