In this blog we interviewed Dr. Jeremy Painter about his book Handbook on the Psalms and Wisdom Literature and to learn more about wisdom literature found in the Bible. This is Part 2 of the interview.
You mention the story of Job is a testament to the fact that the enemy’s intrusion is not the end of the story. Despite our best efforts, you say, “our highest dreams are, at some point, infiltrated by the enemy.” You write, “We build a family, but Satan comes also; we build a career, but Satan comes also; we build a church, but, lest we forget the lesson of Job 1:6, Satan comes also. Could you offer encouragement to our families, single adults, and young people who feel they are being tested right now?
The fact that Satan always infiltrates our lives, even the very best aspects of our lives, sounds ominous. But “the Satan” is God’s appointed instrument of healthy and constructive opposition. There is no Book of Job without the Satan. (My reasons for using the definite article “the” before Satan are explained in detail in the Handbook.) There is no voice from the whirlwind aweing Job at the end of the book without the accusations of the Satan at the beginning of the book. In the New Testament, Judas and Satan and Pilate have more of a vital role to play in Jesus’ resurrection than Jesus’ own friends, Peter, Mary, John, etc. And for Paul, the messenger of Satan was constructively destructive, regularly tearing down Paul’s ego and keeping him useful. And thus Satan was the necessary instrument through which Paul was able to receive God’s grace. I would say that Satan still shows up, and only at God’s permission. And his presence there ultimately signals that grace is on the horizon, as the darkest night heralds the dawn. Furthermore, the perfect complement to the Accuser is the Advocate. Do we need to ask which one of these our Judge is more inclined to be persuaded by?His presence there ultimately signals that grace is on the horizon, as the darkest night heralds the dawn. Click To Tweet
What words of encouragement would you offer writers/creatives during this time of unprecedented crisis we now face in our world? And, if you were to mentor a young man or woman, what message would you like to drive home?
My first recommendation is that you don’t over-expose yourself, especially during this time. The imagination is key to our effectiveness, and the imagination works best in the dark. Great works of the imagination need time to stew, to percolate. The imagination doesn’t work on demand; it follows its own schedule and is never at
Endeavor, as the apostle said, to “lead a quiet and peaceable life” (I Thessalonians 4:11).
anyone’s beck and call. Ideas need to grow in the dark, without the harsh light of public exposure—premature public exposure is usually the death of good ideas.
So, with this recommendation, I would say that you ought to limit how much you’re putting out there in public spaces (social media, etc.). Endeavor, as the apostle said, to “lead a quiet and peaceable life” (I Thessalonians 4:11). Keep your opinions mostly to yourself; don’t give unasked for advice. (I’m aware of the irony of giving this advice.) A time will come when the moment is right and ordained. There’s a right time for people to hear a story. A story told when hearts aren’t ready is a story wasted. I realize how tempting it is to jump into a discussion and “set the record straight” with one’s ideas. But are you sure? How much of what you’re about to say impulsively is exactly what ten thousand other people are saying? Impulsive speech is bound to be clichéd. Clichés are the product of pop culture “wisdom,” so constant dissemination of one’s ideas is likely a futile exercise. The ideas, born in other, less thoughtful people’s minds, will spring from a source no deeper than pop culture. It would be better to work out ideas, test them, allow them to develop. If we speak too soon and the idea hasn’t had time to mature and be tested, we will find ourselves in the unfortunate position of having to spend energy defending the underdeveloped idea we’ve put out there. And by then, we will have lost most of our audience irrevocably.
Looking back on writing Handbook on the Psalms and Wisdom Literature, what was your favorite chapter to write?
I liked writing the section on Song of Songs, but not for reasons that many might assume. The Song of Songs section came at the end of a long journey of study and meditation. When I got to the end, I found that there had been a recurring theme running through the entire narrative of the Wisdom scriptures like a silver thread: From Eden (the beginning of Job) back to Eden (Song of Songs). When I saw that the lovers in Song of Songs, via their marriage, were essentially given Eden again, I felt as if I had embarked upon a journey as big as the cosmos. I was seeing the whole of human history, from paradise, to the Fall, to restoration. Two shameless people, Adam and Eve restored. Biblical wisdom was the catalyst to this restoration. The young man in Proverbs marries Lady Wisdom, and his house is blessed (Proverbs 31). In Ecclesiastes he goes through life clear-eyed, harboring no illusions—the good, the bad. Yet, in ending with the command to fear God and keep his commandments, he still clings to her. And now in Song of Songs, something has been restored, a wise innocence, a noble naivete. So, getting to discuss this and bring the theme to its fullest expression was delightful for me.
What is your favorite genre to read? Any recent favorites? Fiction? Nonfiction?
I would read any book written in the style of Luke’s Gospel. It is the perfect book; any alteration would be a diminishment. The words, “In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that the whole world should be taxed…” are just a simple illustration of the beautiful simplicity—a beauty that is not imprisoned within its original language but is translatable into every language—of Luke’s style. So this brings me to genre. The genre I like best is, roughly speaking, biblical history/biography. Luke was writing in the style of the Septuagint, particularly the LXX’s translation of the historical books (particularly 1 & 2 Kingdoms, i.e., 1-2 Samuel). Books written in this genre somehow master the art of telling the big story by telling a little story. (You’ll notice how, in the words I quoted,
Luke situates the little story of Mary and Joseph in the seemingly larger story of the Roman Empire.
Luke situates the little story of Mary and Joseph in the seemingly larger story of the Roman Empire.) For instance, in I Samuel, the writer tells the big story of Israel’s whole history by telling the little story of the mother cows who left their calves in order to carry the Ark of the Covenant to the appointed destination. Luke tells the whole story of the history of the presence of God in the little story of pregnant Mary’s journey to her cousin Elizabeth’s house. Now, this is a very difficult genre to master. Joseph Smith tried it with the Book of Mormon, but I’ve had the hardest time appreciating this work, even as purely literature. It’s overdone and doesn’t possess any of the literary grace evident in biblical biography. This may surprise you, but one of the successful and most elegant examples of this writing style outside the Bible can be found in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. There are large swaths of this work that demonstrate the deft handling of this genre. Tolkien perfectly nests a cosmic story within the story of an insignificant people.
Jeremy Painter is a prolific writer and author. He lives in St. Charles, Missouri, with his wife and children. He attends the Winds of Pentecost. Vocationally, he is the Assistant Professor of Biblical and Practical Theology at UGST. His academic record includes a PhD in Theology from Radboud University (Nijmegen, Netherlands), a Doctor of Letters in English Literature from the University of Pretoria, and a Doctor of Ministry from Regent University.
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