The Power of Poetry
April is National Poetry Month. I hope you have a few favorite poems that you’ll dust off and enjoy. And I hope you will explore poetry a bit more, regardless of how much or little it has shaped you thus far.
Poems touch places where prose can’t go. They scratch where other genres don’t reach. They ignite or fan into flame emotions that otherwise remain cold.
Consider that God chose to include books of poetry in his scriptures. It would have been far more economical to merely teach didactically “You should praise the Lord” instead of inspiring 150 poems to make the same point. I could say equally silly things about each of the books of poetry like Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Job, and others.
But God knew that certain aspects of a mature sanctification involve more than just cognitive understanding. Some parts of life require emotional depth as well as theological knowledge. So he inspired 150 poems of praise to make us into people who rejoice, give thanks, sing songs, offer laments, grieve over sin, and wait longingly with more than mere intellectual assent.
He inspired poems, mysterious ones, to express the beauty of sensual love in the Song of Solomon. He inspired poems, vexing ones, to help us grope for meaning in a world where everything except God is “vanity of vanities.”
My favorite observation about the poetic books of the Bible is to acknowledge how long the book of Job is. Realistically, that book could have just been 4.2 chapters long, not 42.
Chapter 1 – Bad things happen to Job.
Chapter 2 – Job complains.
Chapter 3 – Job’s stupid friends offer stupid explanations.
Chapter 4 – God weighs in.
Epilogue – God does some nice things for Job.
Instead, God gave us a book with poems that go on and on and on. Job wails for quite a while – many times. His friends offer bad theology – a LOT of bad theology. And God asks questions that have us join Job in placing our hand over our mouths. In order to really join in with our emotions – sorrow over Job’s losses, anger at his friends, humility at our arrogance before God, and a host of other deep feelings that take time to feel, process, and express – poetry provides the best medium to help us.
Please hear me carefully – I am not proposing that poetry is the best genre or that prose, narrative, prophecy, or didactic literature is lacking in any way. I just want to recognize that God inspired all of them in his word and we should value them all.
And I think we can gain a lot from reading all sorts of poems – not just the ones in the Bible. (If you’re a novice in this, you might enjoy some of the very accessible poems of Billy Collins to help you along the way).
Happy Poetry Month!