Thursday, July 12, 2007

Will the shades stand and praise You?

It is Thursday again, and that means Psalm 88 (87 if you are following along in the Vulgate or Septuagint) is prayed at Lauds. I have posted on it before. It has become, after ten years of weekly recitation, one of my five or six favorite Psalms.

This morning my prayer fixed on verse 11:

"Will you work your wonders for the dead?
Will the shades stand and praise you?"

The interesting rhetorical move of asking a question is that it leaves the truth unspoken and open to several possible avenues. In fact, if we want to back up a bit and say something about the very existence of questions in the world, we can say that God has created the cosmos in such a way that we do not at any time know the whole truth. The essence of getting at the truth is asking questions.

In the scientific method, classically explained, the seeker after truth must pose a question and attempt to answer it by verifiable experiment. After data is assembled, a theory is put forth that best explains the data. The philosopher Karl Popper claimed that for theories to be scientific, they must not only explain the data that we have so far, but theories also must be 'falsifiable'. In essence, this means, we should be able to craft new experiments that, given a certain type of result, would prove the theory false. This protects our intellects from skewing the experiment. There are many instances of scientists (and they are not alone in this) creating a pet theory and then generating data to back it up instead of testing the theory to make darn sure it is true. The best contemporary example is Global Warming. Many scientists believe that human beings and their carbon dioxide emissions are causing the temperature of the earth to rise. Then, because this would be of grave importance were it true, scientists compete to find facts that back it up. Experiments that call the theory into question are then dismissed (for example, it is not at all clear that carbon dioxide emissions actually make that much difference in global temperature compared to changes in the sun's rays). But when we stop asking good questions, we are no longer interested in the truth, only proclaiming our chosen ideology.

To 'call into question' is then an important element of finding out the truth. The Psalmist this morning 'calls into question' YHWH's faithfulness. But he does so in an odd way. He doesn't say, "Will you rescue me from the evils that are upon me?" He asks if God's power is such that it can reach even into the grave. A bold question! Are you Almighty or not?

We would say that the theory that God cannot work His wonders for the dead was falsified by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. New data was discovered that flew in the face of a limitation on God's power. Indeed, the shades will stand and praise God, as we read in Matthew 27: 52:

"The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many."

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