David had been holed up in a cave for the past few days, hiding in the wet, dripping dark, listening for any crack of a footstep or zing of an arrow. Absalom, his wayward son, had just taken over his Father’s throne forcing David to flee the kingdom followed by hundreds of able men searching for his head and thousands shaming David’s name. You would imagine that David would be planning his attack, gathering the few faithful men he still had, and fashioning tools for battle in the secret cave.
But he wasn’t. David was writing poetry.
In fact, David responded to most events in his life with poetry. Whether it was a victory in battle, being hunted by vicious men, or responding to glaring sin in his life, David wrote and related himself to God through poetry.
This man-of-all-men-warrior was not afraid to embrace the creative passionate side of himself: the sensitive artist.
Being an English major, I giddily appreciate that God made David a poet. Through GEN ED English classes and all of high school, students audibly groan over the labor of learning about poetry. Far from appreciating, most students I hear question the reason to attempt understanding a muddled mess of imagery. “What does poetry have to with life anyways? It’s not practical” is usually what tumbles out of frustrated students’ mouths.
But here’s the thing about poetry that I think David might just agree with. Some things just can’t be communicated bluntly and explained. Certain emotions, feelings, thoughts, and soul-stirring things can sometimes only be described through hedging around it with similes and metaphors and pictures. Poetry and art draws us deeper into the human experience by attempting to express the inexpressible. And I think that’s what David stumbled upon: a God so big, so indescribable, and passion for Him so overwhelming that poetry was the only response. It was only through poetry that David could attempt to describe God. The beauty that David saw in the LORD led to the expression of beauty through art.
The fact that God made David a poet should stir us towards the importance, mystery, beauty, & necessity of art, not just poetry, and the creation of it.
Truth has this corollary relationship to beauty that demands art. That’s why for centuries, humanity has been writing, painting, acting, and sculpting. There’s something about us that longs for and desires beauty.
But beauty is such a hard word or concept to pin down isn’t it?
My old Theology high school teacher, a friend, and I actually tried to come up with a working definition during a long fire-side discussion about the nature and experience of Truth. We decided that wisdom is to knowledge as beauty is to Truth. The former completes the latter and is more objective but we need both. If we are too content to sit in “Truth” scouring the Bible solely for theological underpinnings and principles, we miss the beauty and mystery of David’s soul-searching Psalms. But if we focus too heavily on beauty, we miss the important truths that demand obedience.
Perhaps we could say that beauty is the experiential embodiment of truth. What is beautiful about the Psalms is the way that David is experiencing all these true things about God that are so overwhelming that they spill out of his soul into art. Art leaks from humanity’s side as the truth of God pierces through us.
So it is time to embrace David as poet. Embrace the mystery and aesthetic beauty that comes from the Bible, from truth, and from Jesus the true embodiment of truth and beauty. (One could argue that Jesus employs art by crafting parables to symbolize Truths too complex and mind boggling to humans try to explain straight on).
Remember that in your search for Truth, don’t abandon the beauty that you’re heart longs for. And perhaps you are not a poet like David, but it shouldn’t stop you from connecting with poetry, music, and paintings.
The simple fact that God deliberately filled the Scriptures with poetry shows that He is a God of beauty and experience and expression, as well as one of truth and theology.