Wednesday, July 25, 2012

An excerpt from a recent paper:

                                                        IMPRECATORY PSALM 69

 “...Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually. Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them. May their camp be a desolation; let no one dwell in their tents. Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous...” (Psalm 69:22-28).

 The humanity in the psalms encourages and affirms the release of emotion and expression of anger, fear and even doubt before God. The psalmist was unafraid to present himself raw before God, “I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God”. David admitted his faults and clearly had nothing hidden from the Lord. As a young shepherd, David probably spent countless hours alone in relationship with God. The intimacy David shared with the Lord, demonstrated in his openness in the psalm, is an invitation for all of us to bear our hearts open before the Lord. “Hide not your face from your servant; for I am in distress; make haste to answer me. Draw near to my soul, redeem me; ransom me because of my enemies!”

These words in Psalm 69 put a voice to the desperation and heartache felt by David in his current state. The honesty expressed in the lines above functioned as a release for the heaviness in the psalmist’s heart. The acknowledgement of discontent, fear and impatience was an act of holiness in that David laid himself bare before the Lord. The release of emotion allowed for the release of responsibility as well. After expressing his heartache and feelings of oppression, David turned his heart to the Lord, accepted God’s timing and laid himself in the steadfast love of the father.

C.S. Lewis attributed the imprecatory psalms to a justified indignation about the problem of sin. Without honest emotions, we may never tap into the honest abhorrence of evil, for it takes a righteous vigilance to come against the forces of evil and to abhor is to feel deep and agonizing discomfort for the thing that is fixated upon. There is no doubt that human beings will learn to hate, but where and how we spend our time will determine what it is that we hate most. We are capable of much emotion and that emotion not surrendered to the righteousness of God is a dangerous and volatile thing, but healthy emotions weighted with the truth will fight for justice, abhor evil and stand firm where the two intersect.

God is not afraid of our emotion, as he demonstrated in his responses to Job, David and many others who shake their fists at the air. Instead, he seeks to engage us in those emotions, drawing out the truth and bringing about the freedom and righteousness he desires for us. David freely expressed his fear and distaste for those rising up against him and the house of God: “For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me”. David’s anger was kindled against those who were challenging the house of God; his lament expressed his belief that the suffering he endured was a suffering for the sake of God’s house.

The number of times that David approached God with anger and distaste for the situations he encountered and the lack of fear to openly express those emotions should inspire readers to explore the rage we feel against sin. For it is “the glory of God [that] demands the destruction of evil”. For David, those prayers were more a renunciation of retaliation than an attempt to achieve vengeance, for they were not followed by violence but strict acceptance and confidence in the power of God to exercise right judgment. “You who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners. Let heaven and earth praise him. For God will save Zion”.

Praying a curse on the enemies of God is an act of submission to God; we no longer have freedom to take revenge. Rather, freedom to express emotion in the presence of the Lord allows us the courage to walk away satisfied with God and his exercise of judgment. David’s ability to leave Saul unharmed in the cave leads us to believe David must have been satisfied with God’s timing and vengeance. Such confidence can only come from a life of experiencing God’s justice and a willingness to engage God in honest conversation.

Although such righteous anger is obviously condoned in the scriptures, C.S. Lewis warns the danger of such righteous anger is how close we get to jumping off the ledge; “those who are readiest to die for a cause may easily become those who are readiest to kill for it”. Lewis argues in his reflections that the psalmist could easily become carried away with vengeance in the name of the Lord and lose sight of the cause altogether. Humanity will always fall short of the necessary righteousness to engage sin, yet the lack of attempt to pursue righteous anger is equivalent to a mother that stands aside while her child is eaten by wolves.

As believers we must function in the attitude of war; David prayed from an attitude of war. God anointed David to fulfill the covenant he made with Israel, so David’s enemies became God’s enemies in his sovereign plan for Israel’s dominance. David was unafraid to call upon God to exercise judgment on his enemies because of his “trust in God’s commitment to the covenant”. These were cries of pain accompanied by full and complete faith and trust in the sovereignty of God. As such, David had every right to call down curses on those who opposed the workings and anointed of Yahweh. This imprecatory psalm was a righteous act against God’s enemies.

Righteous anger is not an act of personal vengeance; it fights for a cause beyond the individual, protecting and often demanding an offensive reaction against the enemy. An imprecatory psalm “is our way of coming before the Lord and throwing the sword to him”. David was not calling down curses on the poor and the needy who engaged in wickedness; he cursed those who, in their power, refused to repent and chose to use that power to come against the Lord’s anointed. “Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them. For God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah, and people shall dwell there and possess it; the offspring of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall dwell in it.” (Psalm 69:34-36).

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