Headlines and Hymns

Michael Metzger

Back page news.
Go to the recycle bin and find the “religion” section in last Saturday’s newspaper. Hard to find? Religion is routinely relegated to the least read page in the least read section on the least read day of the week. Why is that?

Well, we could blame the forces of darkness and “secular” editors. But that would be too easy. It might be closer to the truth if we confess to a disconnect between Sunday hymns and Monday headlines. And that’s a problem as old as the hills. King David tackled it 3,000 years ago. His solution for connecting Sunday to Monday still works today.

David became king of Israel 3,000 years ago. His government was established in Jerusalem, a city that had been in existence for thousands of years. For 13 centuries prior, Jerusalem was a Canaanite city strewn with gods that most people relied on for everyday work. David, in fact, permitted the Canaanite high priest of Jerusalem Zadok to continue in that position after he became king (II Samuel 22). This meant the Canaanites made the headlines, being sophisticated urban dwellers with a distinct language (Ugaratic), impressive architecture and engineering, education, arts and business savvy.

The Israelites, on the other hand, were the Bedouin Hillbillies. They had been nomads for all of their existence and were country bumpkins. They didn’t even have a temple. As a result, the Jewish faith, when it made the papers, was strictly back page. If we put it in modern day parlance, God was reserved for a place called church and a day called Sunday. He might be divine, but he was deficient when it came to matters of commerce and business. Holy, yes, but helpless in running a company. The Canaanites gods were considered to be much more savvy about “real life” Monday through Friday. Of course, in our secularized world, we would never claim to bow down before gods. We call them business gurus. It’s the same game. We look to God for advice on the soul, Warren Buffett for advice on the stock market.

The problem, as David saw it, was that everyone was comfy with this arrangement. He wrote Psalm 29 to remind the Israelites that religion was not to be on the least read page of the least read section on the least read day of the week. David’s psalm recalls how the Israelites’ praised God after Pharaoh’s armies were flooded and then panicked three days later (v.1-2). How quickly we disconnect hymns from headlines. In verses three to nine, God overwhelms the Canaanite god of the workaday world, including Baal. David’s closing comments (v.10-12) refer to a bigger flood that highlights how we connect hymns to headlines: “The Lord sat as king at the flood. The Lord sits as king forever.”

There are only two places in the Hebrew Bible where the word flood appears – in those closing comments and in Genesis 7, when God sat as king at the flood in Noah’s day. King? Yes. Kings issue commands. What command did God give after the flood? “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”1 Where have we heard that before? In the creation account from Genesis:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule… and be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”2

For centuries, Christians have understood this command as the Cultural Mandate, our “human job description.” The fact that the “Lord sits as king” means the mandate still stands. The Cultural Mandate commands Christians to shape the front-page news, the Metro section, business, sports, education and the arts. If we go back and read carefully Genesis 1 (creation), Genesis 7 (Noah’s flood), the Exodus flood and Psalm 29, the mega theme is that God brings order out of chaos. We are mandated by God to continue creating order – seven days of the week. We’re to arrange and order how education, business, the arts, sports – everything in the paper – ought to be.

Sadly, it seems many Christians today are unconcerned about being back page news. If, however, religion is only a way to go to heaven but not go to work (or school), if God helps us with our souls but not the stock market, if he’s into angels but not astronomy, eternity but not engineering, family but not physics, then it makes sense to relegate religion to the least read page in the least read section on the least read day of the week.

Saying “Jesus is Lord” can mean little in practice for anyone who has to hesitate before saying, “Jesus is smart.”3 David believed God is the brightest and the Cultural Mandate is still in effect, meaning the disconnect between Sunday hymns and Monday headlines ought to cease. Otherwise, we’re left with a world where the Bible is for Sunday. Blogs, the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, the Washington Post, ESPN, Drudge Report or Charles Schwab are for Monday.

1 Genesis 9:1
2 Excerpts from Genesis 1:26-28
3 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998), p.95


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