Something Good from Wicked

I sat in a theater recently at Tulsa’s Performing Arts Center, enthralled by the performance of Wicked. For over two hours, the performers held my mind and emotions captive.  Even after the curtain’s final fall, my thoughts continued to dwell on the musical.  Wicked’s story and how it is told by the cast and orchestra are woven seamlessly together.  The full experience is moving, both mentally and emotionally.

Had I simply read the script, I may have enjoyed the plot line.  Elphaba’s story may have elicited intellectual sympathy.  But to truly be moved, it took the entire production.

Who is it that created us to think and feel?  God, obviously.  He planted within us the capacity to appreciate beauty, to sense the connection between concepts and their emotional ramifications.  May I suggest that in our day of dumbed-down literature and shallow entertainment, we are missing great opportunities to experience the fullness of life God’s way?  Let me give an example.

Though I don’t like the use of the word “sucks,” it has worked its way into our vocabulary.  Perhaps you’ve seen the bumper sticker which says: “Life sucks; then you die.”  Not a very profound statement; yet, it captures the tragic truth of life in a fallen, sinful world.

Consider now, essentially the same thought from a famous passage from Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. In the play’s fifth act, Macbeth, the man who has gained the crown of Scotland through murder and treachery, hears of the death of his wife, and he utters one of the great speeches in English drama:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death.  Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

The meaning of the two, the bumper sticker and Shakespeare’s passage, is basically the same: life is nasty, meaningless, and short.  Yet there is a sense in which Shakespeare’s words enrich the reader’s understanding in a way that the bumper sticker does not.  Carl Trueman wrote, “The language, the sounds of the words, the images, the metrical structure – all provide an elaborate and complex expression that draws the audience into a deeper, more striking encounter with the absurdity of existence.”

Shakespeare touches on an aspect of life we knew already, but he does so in a way that actually deepens our knowledge in subtle yet appreciable ways.  Both the bumper sticker and Shakespeare tell us that life is short and apparently pointless, but only Macbeth’s soliloquy actually confronts us with the full complexity of the truth and then transforms us as a result.  Put simply: what is being said is inseparable from how it is being expressed.

Let me carry this thought to the critical importance of the Psalms in Christian life and experience.  The Psalms meet us where we are.  They capture life, with all of its vagaries, frustrations, and joys, and they allow us to express our deepest emotions before God.  Just as Shakespeare’s words cannot be separated from how he expressed them, the Psalms cannot simply be read intellectually; they must be experienced.  They meet us where we are, and then they take us from where we are to where we need to be.  They are a moving drama.

For these reasons, I believe reading the Psalms is critical for Christians.  They keep our faith authentic.  God did not create us as merely physical bodies with calculating minds.  He fashioned us in His image, and we find in Scripture that He is a feeling Being.

Can it be that we have made the mistake of reducing theology to cerebral facts?  Christian teaching is often presented only on the intellectual plane, just ideas.  But read the Old Testament sometime, particularly the Psalms.  These books bleed the full, robust human experience!  They move the reader deeply, engaging the mind but also powerfully triggering the emotions.  Even after the curtain falls and we place the Bible on the shelf, the words and images continue to haunt our thoughts.

Reading and experiencing the Psalms keeps us authentic before a watching world.  Of the words non-believers use to describe Christians, hypocritical and inauthentic score high on the list.  Mark Twain said, “The church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example.”

A sure way to reform ourselves, to be more authentic, is to live religion God’s way.  And His way always engages both our minds and emotions.  Like a moving drama, God’s Word enters every aspect of who we are.  It renews our minds and transforms our whole person.

Why not consider reading the Psalms each evening before bed during the month of December?  Read at random – there are 150 chapters!  Or read methodically, starting with chapter 1 and reading three or four each night.  The goal is not how much you read but becoming immersed in the soul-changing, mind-enriching, life-altering experience.