In this post I’m going to tell you the story of Clara, who is a collage of four different students (all young ladies) who wrote research papers or Bachelor’s theses for me in the last couple of years. For each of them, the process of researching and writing turned in to a love for God’s Word and a desire to dig deeper to discover more about the depth of God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness as Scripture reveals it to us. You should be aware that since it’s a collage of my students, it’s a little idealistic. Still, it represents some of the things I love about teaching and real encouragement I’ve received from four different students.
A Reluctant Seminary Student
Clara came to seminary a little reluctantly. She finished a Bible certificate and felt that was enough, but her teachers and mentors saw potential and encouraged her to continue on to an MDiv. So she did. But even coming in to seminary she wondered just how valuable all that Greek and Hebrew and Systematic Theology would be for real life ministry.
Once at seminary she began to make some new discoveries. In her Old and New Testament classes she began to see Scripture in a new way. It’s not just a book where we find encouragement in times of trouble or rules to live by. It’s not a book that can be summarized by the four spiritual laws. It’s a book that reveals the mysteries of God’s plan for all of human history. It’s a book full of literary devices like parables or chiasms or word plays that hide, just below the surface, wonderful aspects of God and his plan that are waiting to be uncovered by anyone with the patience and desire to search.
Clara had always thought the book of Psalms was just a collection of prayers thrown together haphazardly. That can almost be an advantage because then we can pick any random Psalm that matches our mood or situation and read it for encouragement, or we can take David as an example of faith in God when we experience dire circumstances—just like he did.
In my Old Testament class we talked about the fact that the Psalter should be read as a whole with an organizing principle. That intrigued Clara and so she decided to do her research paper on the book of Psalms. She worked hard. She looked up sources and read several scholarly articles or essays on reading Psalms as a unit. By the time she finished her research paper she felt she was just beginning to understand why we should read Psalms as a book. So she decided to write her Bachelor’s thesis on Psalms as well.
For the Bachelor’s thesis she dug into the literature even more. She began to discover that the royal psalms help structure the book. Psalm 2 sets the stage by creating great messianic expectations. She understands why scholars see those expectations developing with the Davidic psalms in Books I and II and then as being passed on to David’s descendants after Psalm 72 (the end of Book II). Psalm 72 is the psalm of David’s son Solomon that ends, “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse are ended.” By Psalm 89 (the end of Book III), however, those expectations come crashing down, only to be modified in books IV and V of the Psalter where Yahweh is king (Ps 110). All told, the Psalms give us new Messianic expectations. The Davidic Messiah, we may wonder at the end—is he really a Yahwistic Messiah? Now you might see why the book of Psalms is the Old Testament book most quoted in the New Testament.
In the process of researching and writing her Bachelor’s thesis, Clara became enamored with the book of Psalms. Her husband calls it her “pure fascination.” When she hears a sermon from Psalms she has a special feeling that “he’s preaching from my book!” It’s becoming a door to the rest of Scripture for her. Now that she understands how to read this one book better she’s understanding how to read many other parts of Scripture better, too. She’s also starting to pick up connections to other parts of the Bible.
The same girl that reluctantly began her seminary studies is now thinking of doctoral studies. The same girl that thought her way of reading Scripture was enough, now sees new dimensions in the text that expand her understanding of God and his plan of salvation. She once said in one of my other classes, “The Slovak church needs to learn to study Scripture better.”
And she wants to help the church do just that.