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Finding ourselves in the Psalms

My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.” Psalm 35.10

Church historian, Paul Burns, draws attention to the importance of the Psalms in Augustine of Hippo's development as a person and as a leader in the early western church. Two themes in particular emerge: pilgrimage and confession. To the extent that Augustine appreciates the progressive nature of the journey of faith - from sin to redemption - Augustine absolves himself from lingering doubts over his neoplatonism. For instead of pining for a lost homeland, he looks forward to the new Jerusalem. This pilgrimage is not simply a physical journey through life, it also involves a transformation of one's heart.

In Augustine's theology, "confession" applies to two distinct, though related, activities: faith and sin. So one confesses faith in God through praise at the same time as confessing sin through penitence. Both find expression in the Psalms which become the Christian's emotional outlet, inviting us to share the outpourings of the Psalmist without getting carried away by our own feelings - which Augustine was very keen to control!

According to Augustine, the Psalms orient us towards Jesus and therefore are essential to our formation as Christ followers. In taking up the Psalms himself - such as when he quotes from Psalm 22 on the cross "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?..." - Jesus identifies his personal suffering with that of the church, which we also designate "the body of Christ". The Psalms, therefore, offer us a complete and integrated picture of Jesus, both in his embodiment of the church and as its head, which itself represents both the family of believers and God's earthly tent, as he shares our pilgrimage through life: Emmanuel, God with us!



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