Monday, May 29, 2006

Dashing Babies against Stones and Bloody Foot Baths

As part of my doctoral studies on suffering for righteousness in the book of Psalms, I am having to wrestle through what biblical scholars call "The Imprecatory Psalms." These are the psalms that cry out to God for vengeance on their enemies. They call down curses on their foes and look forward to their destruction. Psalms like 137 that declares, "Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock! (verse 9)." Or Psalm 58:

O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord! Let them vanish like water that runs away; when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted. Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun. Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns, whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away! The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. (verses 6-10)

Many Christians are uncomfortable with these verses. The Anglican Church of Canada's Book of Common Prayer actually removes them from the Psalter as being inappropriate for Christians to pray such sentiments.

Recently, however, I came across an excellent discussion on the Imprecatory Psalms by John N. Bray, pastor of the Bellewood Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Washington. Entitled, "Crying for Justice" (Kregel, 2005). In this concise exposition, Dr. Bray demonstrates conclusively, I believe, that these words are the prayers of God's people today as well as they face extreme suffering and oppression. In page 13, he summarizes his position with the following observations:

But the question may yet be asked, "How can it be right for Christians to cry out for divine vengeance and violence, as in the imprecatory psalms?" Four observations from Scripture address this question.

First, the vengeance appealed for is not personally enacted. Rather, God is called upon to be the Avenger.
Second, this appeal is based upon the covenant promises of God, most notable of which are "He who curses you, I will curse" (Gen. 12:3), and "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay" (Deut. 32:35). If God has so promised, then it would not seem wrong for his people to petition him (even passionately) to fulfill these promises!!
Third, both testaments record examples of God's people on earth calling down curses or crying for vengeance. Yet there is no literary or theological intimation of divine disapproval over such sentiments being expressed. Indeed, the implication is that, in its appropriate place, such utterances are commendable (cf. the imprecatory psalms and the Pauline and Petrine curses of Gal. 1:8-9 and Acts 8:20).
Fourth, Scripture further records an instance in which God's people in heaven, where there is no sin, cry out for divine vengeance and are comforted by the assurance of its impending enactment (Rev. 6:9-11). Since these martyred saints are perfected, their entreaty would presumably be "right."

Of course, Day develops his thought much more completely in the rest of the book. But I thought that I might just whet your appetite for more. I would highly recommend this valuable resource. You can order one from most online book stores like Chapters, Amazons or Abesbooks.


Anonymous said...

I have felt anger as I read the accounts of cruel and inhumane treatment of God's people. I have felt that just praying for strength and boldness for them, and for their persecutors salvation, were important but not enough.

I agree that we should not take matters out of God's hands, and into our own. I also agree that there is nothing wrong with praying for God's justice, even when that means destruction of those so willingly doing the devil's work.

I ask that God would make his church wise to know how to pray!

Anonymous said...

Well! I just learned a new thing in that bit about Imprecatory Psalms. Never thought of it from that angle before.I must turn this new knowledge over in my mind & see where it takes me. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the writer as well. I have in the past 6 months or so began to pray that God will destroy His enemies, all those who continue to defy Him and will not repent and bring on His return to earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It it the persecution of fellow believers and the absolute evil of the wicked that makes me feel that way. I can understand King David and how he felt. But I also add to my prayer, only in your time, Lord and after You have brought all your chosen ones into the Fold.
I think we all long for His Return. Praise Jesus!
Shirley - Australia

Glenn Penner said...

You are right, Anonymous, I will not post your comments, but not because you disagreed with what we wrote here. We refuse to let this blog become an uncivilized place like so much else on the Internet where politeness is left behind under the guise on anonymity. As we state in our comments policy:

Disagreement is allowed and even encouraged. We are not, however, impressed by the use of profanity, insults, name calling, mean-spiritedness, and stereotyping. The use of such will probably result in your comment not being posted.

Next try, cut back on the insults and try to actually have a reasonable conversation without resorting to mean-spiritedness and I'll be happy to post your comments.