Wednesday, November 29, 2017

What of the violence in those prayers?

It is one thing to understand Jeremiah’s prayers for divine justice by their own logic and terms; it is quite another challenge to test their relevance in a new covenant Christian setting. Praying against one’s enemies is not the way Jesus taught his followers. This raises the immediate question of whether there is a way to reconcile the imprecatory prayers with Jesus’ message of love for one’s enemies (Matt 5:44, Luke 6:27–29).—Standing in the Breach, page 410

Thus, two patterns have emerged. On the one side, we have those who want to exclude these prayers from the functioning Christian canon, because of their time and culture-bound characteristics, while, on the other side, are those who tend to reinterpret or spiritualize the material in order to maintain its abiding witness for the Church. Traditionally, the Church expects that the Bible in its full complexity has relevance for its contemporary readers. This is what gives the Bible its vitality.—Standing in the Breach, page 413

<idle musing>
An enduring problem, indeed. I certainly don't have the answer! But it does seem ironic to me that a culture that is as warlike as ours, sending drones on innocent citizens, carrying on wars all over the world to "protect American interests," and that allows 33,000 people every year to be killed by hand guns has a problem with violence in the Bible!

Stop to think about that for a minute. It's like the current rage of firing people for sexual misconduct—which I think is totally justified!—in a culture that glorifies sex. Does anyone see the irony in this?

Ah well, just an
</idle musing>


Edwardtbabinski said...

Some religious right activists pray "imprecatory prayers" aimed at politicians and judges who defend "choice" or other "liberal" policies.

Perfect hatred is one idea but Psalm 109:8-9 explains what that means in practice: “Let his days be few; and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.”

In 2016 a senator prayed such prayers at a meeting of Evangelicals gathered in D.C. for one of the year’s biggest religious right gatherings, "GOP Sen. David Perdue: Pray that Obama's 'days be few'"

As far back as 1994 the Capitol Hill Prayer Alert, a Washington D.C.-based prayer group, produced a list of twenty-five Democratic incumbents, and urged prayer partners to petition God to bring evil upon the people on that list. “Donʼt hesitate to pray imprecatory Psalms over them,” wrote one of the groupʼs founders, Harry Valentine, in the groupʼs newsletter. “Imprecatory” means to “call down evil upon.” Such Psalms include: “Let his days be few; and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” (Ps. 109:8,9) “Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into Sheol.” (Ps. 55:15) “The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance: he shall wash his own feet in the blood of the wicked.” (Ps. 58:10)

Edwardtbabinski said...

Don’t such psalms help focus and catalyze mean violent thoughts against others? Such psalms have been found useful by Christians who wish to let loose a tsunami of hateful prayers upon those whomever they disagree with or don't find "Christian" enough, including senators and presidents, see examples in previous comment.

Is there anything in the Bible, any words or activities of Yahweh or Jesus (or of allegedly divinely led humans) that cannot be excused as "acceptable" to a Christian, and even "inspired" when read "within a broader canonical context?" Doesn't that sound like an all round  nonfalisifiable excuse for believing that everything in the Bible is "inspired" regardless of whatever some parts say?

Edwardtbabinski said...

The foundations for imprecation come most notably from:
1. The promise of divine vengeance in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-43).
2. The principle of divine justice in the lex talionis (e.g., Deut. 19:16-21)
3. The promise of divine cursing in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:2-3).

God is called upon to be the Avenger, nothing personal, just that God will crush His enemies, the same people whom the Christian "knows" must be God's foremost enemies.

It's biblical, an appeal based upon the covenant promises of God, most notable of which are “He who curses you, I will curse” (Gen. 12:30, and “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” (Deut. 32:35). If God has so promised, then how could it possibly be wrong for his people to claim the promises of such inspired curses?

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).

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). Ah, the sweet comfort of utter and eternal destruction of one's fellow human beings. And since these martyred saints are perfected, their entreaty would presumably be “right.”

Edwardtbabinski said...

Speaking of Psalms that contain curses, during John Paul II's time as pope Catholics removed 120 verses from the Liturgy of the Hours text, comprising three whole psalms and additional verses from nineteen others because of the curses they contained. (Though Thomas Aquinas quotes from the imprecatory verses omitted from the contemporary Liturgy of the Hours more than one hundred times.)

In explaining the decision, the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours makes the following statement:

"Three psalms (58[57], 83[82], and 109[108]) have been omitted from the Psalter cycle because of their curses; in the same way, some verses have been omitted from certain psalms, as noted at the head of each. The reason for the omission is a certain psychological difficulty, even though the psalms of imprecation are in fact used as prayer in the New Testament, for example, Rv 6:10, and in no sense to encourage the use of curses."

Also, current editions of the United Methodist Hymnal, the Revised Common Lectionary, and the Episcopal Sunday Lectionary have omitted certain of the imprecatory psalms and edited out a number of verses in others.

A question naturally emerges from this common concern about imprecation in public prayer: Does the “psychological difficulty” raised by certain passages of the Psalter mean that Christians cannot or may not any longer pray the psalms of imprecation publically?

from a paper at

jps said...

I suspect we are coming at the question from different philosophical presuppositions. I'll let your comments stand, though, because the only thing I don't allow (other than derogatory language) is advertising.


Edwardtbabinski said...

Your “different angle” approach reminds me of Trump’s alternative facts approach, or his good people on both sides approach.

The Bible contains passages and commands few would consider moral today, including slavery, polygamy, concubinage, mass slaughter, and of course the imprecatory psalms. ( It is also odd that such psalms are embraced as inspired by many Christians afraid to even say dammit. )

All in the all the Bible is a mixed bag, some practical moral wisdom, some marvelous sayings, but the story or stories are all over the place from a Hebrew Hercules to a dying prophet/messiah, from a land grab and armies of God, to promises that the meek shall inherit the earth. And passages scattered in both testaments akin to slightly buried nuclear waste, enough to fry people’s minds, especially those drawn to acting like authoritarians or who are drawn towards authoritarian demigogues. A concise rewrite is in order.

jps said...

I didn't say or imply in any way "different angles." I said different philosophical presuppositions. Huge difference. I agree that there are places where people can run in directions that are anything but moral. I also believe that is true of any book—or piece of communication.

My philosophical presuppositions are basically laid out in the Apostle's Creed. I firmly believe that the philosophical presupposition that the world is a closed cause and effect box is wrong—and misleading.