The angry Psalms

bible3.jpgSome Psalmists invoked or called down evil or curses.  A classic example is the end of Psalm 137:

V. 8-9: O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us— he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

These imprecatory Psalms, as they are called, make Christians uncomfortable – as they should

Some of these psalmists seem to be venting in the first part of the Psalm, then they seem to calm down as they talk with God and start to see things from his perspective.

Skeptics and Dalmatian Theologians often use them, along with other difficult passages, as a sort of trump-card to say, “Aha!  That would be evil, so this isn’t God’s Word!”  They are wrong.

There are different points of view on this – most of which rigid liberal fundamentalists won’t like – but I think Ben Witherington III sums it up nicely:

I think actually Luther had a very good point when he said that in the prophets God speaks to us, but in the psalms we speak to God, and what is in and on our hearts is truly and truthfully revealed. How then are such psalms God’s Word? The answer is not difficult– they show God holding up a mirror to us so we will see our own hearts and what is in them– ranging from praise to cursing. As James once said– blessing and cursing should not be coming out of the same human mouth or heart for that matter.

The imprecatory psalms then reveal fallen human character, not divine character.

Just because something is in the Bible doesn’t mean that God thinks the action being described is a swell idea.  The Bible is a thoroughly honest book.  The flaws of even the heroes of the faith are laid out for all to see.  There is no revisionist history there. 

For Christians who dismiss these verses as not belonging in the Bible: If those passages trouble you, that is good. But I wouldn’t throw them out by saying that God didn’t want them in the Bible.  Unless, of course, you can do both of the following for me:

1. Use your “still, small voice” – i.e., your hotline to the true word of God – and tell me what God really wanted the Bible to say. Don’t just say that the current version is wrong, but tell me what it should have said. Feel free to add, delete or modify as He guides you.

2. Convince me why I should trust your revelation from God rather than the one that has been tested for 2,000 years or more and rather than any special revelations that other people come up with.

For non-Christians who use these verses to dismiss the Bible: I encourage you to dig deeper. 

103 thoughts on “The angry Psalms”

  1. Neil said:

    Dan, this is why people may not take your views on this very seriously. It has been pointed out many times that arguing from silence is very weak at best,

    But I think that the Bible is silent on gay marriage. After prayerfully and carefully reading the bible, that is the conclusion that I have reached. And, if the bible is silent on an issue, then we have to make our conclusions based on what we can gather from the Bible.

    I gather from the Bible that marriage is a good thing. I gather from the bible that it is wrong to pursue unnatural relations. I therefore, gather that marriage is a good thing, straight or gay.

    What would you have me do if I think the bible is silent on an issue? Pretend that it’s not?

    And Marshall, I hear you saying that you don’t think Michael makes a good case. Do you mind horribly if I disagree with you? Can I decide for myself who has and hasn’t made a good case?

    I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to agree with you in spite of what I think the Truth is. My understanding of God’s Word is that gay marriage is a good thing. I’m sure you wouldn’t have me reject my understanding of God’s Word in favor of your understanding.

    Thanks for that grace.


  2. But I think that the Bible is silent on gay marriage.

    My understanding of God’s Word is that gay marriage is a good thing.

    So, the Bible is silent on gay marriage, except that it commends gay marriage?


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