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No Words

Who can utter the mighty doings of the Lord or declare all God’s praise? - Psalm 106:2 (NRSV)

Every preacher, composer, Biblical scholar, and all the rest of us owe a debt to whoever wrote Psalm 106, which reminds us of the impossibility of our attempts to put into human words God’s “mighty doings.”

No matter how hard we try or how skillful we are at preaching, composing, writing, or praying, we will always fall short of being able to articulate the mystery, power, and love we sometimes call God. Our carefully crafted words can’t even proclaim the full extent of the praise we seek to offer.

The psalmist assures us we’re in good company. So do struggling writers like Paul the Apostle. “We do not know how to pray as we ought,” he wrote to the Christians in Rome, “but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26, RSV, adapted). Attempting to explain God’s great work of resurrection in his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul valiantly tries to articulate the difference between celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies, the moon’s glory and the sun’s glory, perishability and imperishability. He finally gives up and declares, “Behold! I tell you a mystery” (1 Corinthians 15:51, ESV). He tries again to describe that ineffable mystery, then closes simply with “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57, ESV). Amen!

Beyond the Bible, even a poet like Dante knew his limits in “uttering the mighty doings of the Lord or declaring all God’s praise.” Throughout 33 cantos (chapters) of Paradiso, he tries to describe God’s glory, but finally admits “my exalted vision lost its power.” With no more words, he gives into “the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars.”

We people of the Word might be wise to do the same.


Thanks be to God. Amen.

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