August 19

August 19
by Pastor Jim
Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;
     let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
     and may his prayers condemn him.
May his days be few;
     may another take his place of leadership.
May his children be fatherless and
     his wife a widow.
May his children be wandering beggars;
     may they be driven from their ruined homes.
Psalm 109:6-10
So … is Pastor Jim having a bad day?  Does he need a hug?  And why haven’t I ever heard that Psalm in church on Sunday?
Well, to answer your questions, No to the first one; to the second, I’ve gotten plenty of hugs from Judy today; and … well, I guess the third is rather obvious.  In a given worship service, not everyone is going to arrive oppressed by an enemy, and, even if we were, Jesus taught a different approach to those we consider to be in that category.
Psalm 109 is one of the “imprecatory psalms.”  Others are 5, 12, 35, 40, 52, 56, 58, 69, 79, 83, 109,137, 139, and 143 and perhaps also 6, 11, 37, and 54.  Yes, there are a lot of them — and in a minute I want to suggest how we might actually make positive use of them.
First, though, just a couple of words to answer a question that I know is lurking out there — one of those questions that just needs to be addressed before the discussion can move on.  The question: What on earth are such Psalms doing in the Bible??
Well, here are three things to consider:
  • First, and foremost, the psalms are not doctrine (as, for instance, Paul’s letter to the Romans) or even a record of what God has done (as is most of the rest of the Bible) but are rather simply a collection of people‚Äôs responses to what God or others have done.  Perhaps sometimes people speak too strongly.
  • That being said, note that vengeance itself is left in the hands of God; the individual does not plan personal vengeance, but calls upon God to make things right.
  • Finally, let’s keep in mind that injustice is not a small thing. It is not to be minimized or ignored and scripture makes that clear in many places. At times, these psalms may be a proper response to injustice — prayers that injustice and unjust people might be stopped.
So the rabbis who collected the psalms considered psalms of this type — as well as some of the stronger lament psalms which rather call God to account for his inaction.  Rather than throw them out, they said, “Yes, we do feel this way at times; these psalms, too, need to be a part of scripture.”
So that’s how they got in the Bible; and perhaps some of us have had extremely bad days on occasion (or maybe just really needed a hug) and used one or more of these psalms as they were originally intended.
But I once encountered another suggestion when I was at the Lutheran Bible Institute, prior to going to seminary.  One of the teachers noted how, even as redeemed followers of Jesus, we still struggle with the power of sin within (sometimes called “the old Adam”).  Paul himself famously describes that internal turmoil in Romans 7:15-25 and Luther noted how we always remain both saints and sinners; saints because we are covered with the righteousness of Christ but sinners because … well … we continue to sin!  Romans 7 again.
So, this teacher suggested that a follower of Jesus might use such dark scripture as the imprecatory psalms by aiming them not at a physical, earthly enemy but rather at “the old Adam” within when we found ourselves engaged in that struggle Paul describes.
I’m generally not a fan of “repurposing” scripture for purposes other than originally intended.  In this case, though, I found the suggestion creative and helpful.  Certainly, I am very much aware of that daily struggle which I experience with my old nature.  The Bible describes our present situation in terms that have been described as living “between the already and the not yet” — between the already of Christ-Cross-Resurrection and the not yet of Christ’s return and the end of the age, after which that internal turmoil will no longer be a part of us.
I long for that “not yet” day.  In the meantime, regarding that “old Adam” …
Appoint someone evil to oppose [him];
     let an accuser stand at his right hand ….

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