Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Those Imprecatory Psalms


All the grandchildren (well, not all – but most the Elliot and some of the Watanabe gang) are already planning on summer vacation at Takayama. And, truth to tell, this is something to which I also look forward.

Vacation with family is wonderful anywhere. But Takayama is special. Mixing with so many missionary families from all different national, theological and ethnic backgrounds is both comforting (we share so much) and stretching (we differ in so many things.)

Takayama Baptism

I remember one late summer Adult Sunday School class at Takayama. The crowd is just as diverse in the late summer – maybe even more so – but, for all that, the fellowship is sometimes more intimate.

Somehow the discussion rolled around to imprecatory psalms – my secret to survival during our first term in Japan. This is a secret, as I discovered that day, shared by many survivors and thrivers.

Just to make sure everyone is on the same page Imprecatory psalms are the ones that “imprecate” – that is “pray evil against or invoke a curse upon one’s enemies.” Bible Gateway says Psalm 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140 are imprecatory and suggests that they “deserve comment, for they jar the sensitivities of those whose Master taught them to love their enemies and pray for (not against) their persecutors (Mt 5:44).”

I think these were our son’s thoughts the day he told me that it seemed like we sang an awful lot of imprecatory psalms these days!

I’ve thought a lot about it – struggled really. Because, as I mentioned in my last post, I really do desire to be sweet spirited – as refreshing as a tree planted by the water in a desert oasis.

I thought about this again yesterday when on our way back from Hokkaido my husband and I read the first chapter of R T Kendall’s Total Forgiveness. (A gift from a colleague who has also struggled.)

Is it right to find so much comfort in singing:

LORD, rise and save me, O my God;

For you subdue my every foe!

You strike the jaw of wicked men,

Smashing their teeth with mighty blows.

- 3B (sung to TORONTO LM)

Because I certainly do find comfort in it!

Should I try to be more careful to “spiritualize”?

Gateway gave me this answer:

The Christian reader must begin by accepting these prayers as they are… The best reading will refrain from spiritualizing the enemy or the petitions or the blessings thereby diminishing the depth of the agony felt and the vehemence of the action sought.

This is a much more satisfying answer than one usually hears. Because it really does diminish the depth of the agony felt to “spiritualize” it all… 

And I find it feels so much better to be honest - with myself and with God.



Still….  when the anger subsides – or is it that God takes on Himself, on His Son, the anger I’ve laid out before Him? – I often come back to this scene towards the end of “Fiddler on the Roof”:

Villager:  We should defend ourselves. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

Tevya:  Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.

I certainly don’t want to live in a blind and toothless world!  Nor do I really wish so much evil on my enemies – especially the ones who should be my friends! (Psalm 55)

Bible Gateway had an answer for me here, too!

When, for whatever reasons, we find ourselves unable to appropriate the mind of the Master for “the enemy,” these prayers can provide a place of prayer from which to start, leading through the desire for vengeance to the prayer for blessing and redemption to which we are called.

Yes! Imprecatory psalms are just a place to start! They are not a place to live! I need to work through my “desire for vengeance to the prayer for blessing and redemption to which we are called.”

But only by being truly honest with God do I reach that place of refreshing and blessing that I desire.

06.11.29.TakWalk (6)
Reference – Bible Gateway – Imprecatory Psalms

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