Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Theological Imprecations

This is a song I wrote for my Psalms class this year. It is based on Psalm 137.

2 Timothy 3:16
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

Psalm 137 presents an interesting theological problem. The psalmist finishes the psalm with the verse “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” (Psalm 137:9). This strong language is issued against the Babylonians who, in the context of the psalm, have recently brought the nation of Israel into exile. The problem is this: we adhere that the psalms are books of scripture, we adhere that, as I have written above, all scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching and training in righteousness. We also adhere that Jesus is the Christ, God incarnate, and that he has told us to love our enemies as ourselves (Matthew 5:43-44). If we adhere to these things and hold them as truth, then how can we accept Psalm 137? Should not the psalmist have had an inward knowledge of the inevitable covenant with Christ? Should not the editors of the psalms have seen this as unbiblical and discarded it? Should not one of the ecumenical councils have seen this psalm as un-canonical and stricken it from our Holy book? And yet, here it is.

I think the emotions expressed in this psalm speak to a school of thinking in modern Christianity that is flawed and incorrect. We tend to view God through a karmic lens, assuming that he is vengeful, and that if we are sinful he will give us a limited number of chances before he destroys us. And if that is true for us, it must also be true for our enemies. This method of thinking is flawed. God does not deal justice in karma. If he did, we would not have needed Jesus to come to Earth, die for us, and be raised again. We wouldn’t need a saviour, because we would be able to save ourselves with good karma. It’s here that I feel the old joke “my karma ran over my dogma” holds true. Although sins have consequences we know from the book of Job that bad things happening aren’t necessarily as a result of sin. On the flip side we see in King Solomon that good things happening aren’t necessarily a result of God’s good favour. Job was righteous and blameless and he had everything taken from him, whereas Solomon was a deplorable letch (with a harem bigger than Hugh Heffner and Warren Jeffs combined) whose reign was accompanied by unfathomable wealth, peace, and success.

We forget that the psalms are emotional pieces of poetry. God is just; in due time he will right all that is unjust. Occasionally our human interpretation of what is just and unjust is skewed. The bible often gives examples of the human condition as well as examples of how to live. The psalmist in this verse is heartbroken. He is telling his oppressor’s that turnabout is fair play. Does this mean that we should go around cursing those who have wronged us? No. We are called to something more. Have other believers felt those intense emotions? Yes. Can we find comfort in that? Absolutely.

Ultimately we are called to forgive. This week I heard a quote of whose source I am unsure of. It says that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting our enemies to die. We need to forgive, or we remain heartbroken.

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