OWAAT October 22: On Human and Divine Vengeance in the Psalms and Life

I am grateful that with so much going on in our world there are so many fascinating resources and conversation partners with which to engage in deep reflection, as well as so much worthwhile social justice activity going on in which to participate. In these times it is too easy to shift toward either “the paralysis of analysis” (as Martin Luther King, Jr. mentioned), or raw action without reflection. As the United States continues teetering on the brink of military action with North Korea, it is important for Christians to seek clarity on faithful theological perspectives regarding war and what real peace means. Jim Wallis notes in The (Un)Common Good:

When tensions across the world are especially high, the faith community should do what it can to promote nonviolence in our own backyards and project that message of peace around the world. […] In a world wracked with violence and war, the words of Jesus, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Matt. 5:9), are not only challenging; they are daunting. […] The words of Jesus are either authoritative for us or they are not. And they are not set aside by the very real threats of terrorism. They do not easily lend themselves to the missions of nation-states that would usurp the prerogatives of God” (p. 114-115).

Even Mark Tooley in The National Review entreats those who profess Christian faith to use caution when calling for forceful military solutions to international conflicts.

As we continue our journey through the Psalms, it is helpful to continue considering their context/sociopolitical setting/formation/creation. Noted theologian and biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman considers, “it is possible to understand the Psalter as a long editorial-traditioning process whereby many songs and poems from many sources were formed into collections for usage in a variety of contexts, until finally the several collections were shaped into a grand scheme of the present Psalter in five books.” The theological variety contained within the Psalms is amazing, and wonderful to experience one at a time.

This week’s Psalms, numbers 58-64, inscribed as “psalms of David,” hearken to what appears as a violent, war-making king. As Christians who purport to love and choose peace, rather than war, what do we do with these? We can note they receive scant treatment in the Revised Common Lectionary, with Psalm 62 appearing in Epiphany 3B, and Psalm 63 in Lent 3C – the rest are not included. The question remains, though – how do these Psalms inform and speak to our faith?


Daily Bible readings:

October 22 Psalm 58
October 23 Psalm 59
October 24 Psalm 60
October 25 Psalm 61
October 26 Psalm 62
October 27 Psalm 63
October 28 Psalm 64

Brueggeman’s classic, An Introduction to the Old Testament, the Canon, and Christian Imagination, provides a robust overview of the Old Testament as a whole, as well as giving solid information and theological food for thought on each book.

Jutta Hausmann’s essay, “The Topic of Violence–a Hermeneutical Challenge in Reading Psalms,” offers us some hard questions and deep thoughts to consider as we read the Psalms. “Interpersonal conflicts and violence are not very often placed in theological perspective by biblical authors” (p. 81), which tends to leave us the theological task of framing them. I find this biblical tendency mostly fascinating – embedded into faith is often the necessity of reading and interpreting the text for ourselves, rather than the text telling us how to interpret it. As humans capable of thought on many levels, we have a responsibility to listen in good faith to what the text says, working to understand it in its own context, as well as meanings the text has for us in our current contexts. She moves on to say more specifically, “In Psalm 58, violence occurs at two different levels: 1) violence between human beings, and 2) violence being performed by God.” (p. 84) What is your theological response to the idea that violence is performed by God?

Daniel Berrigan’s And the Risen Bread, particularly Chapter 13: Uncommon Prayer, is one such response. Find a copy in your local library:  http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/928247114


As we continue our Lectio Divina practice throughout this month, here are a couple more resources for us to consider on this journey:

Lauren Winner’s article “Lectio Divina and Divorce: Reflections in Twelve Parts about What Divorce Has to Teach the Church” has some interesting insights. She asks the questions: “Divorce is a failure, and a morally serious failure at that; is it a failure that can teach the church anything about penitence, forgiveness, justice, grace, vocation? About love?” and “Put another way, if we in the church were to practice lectio divina
with divorce-in-our-midst as the text, what might the Holy Spirit call to our attention?” (p. 283).

John Klassen’s “Ever Ancient, Ever New: Lectio divina is not just for monastics anymore” has some good insights, too. As he says, “Lectio divina matters because it provides a contemplative, Scripture-based foundation for a thoughtful Christian response to our world. This response comes as Scripture touches human experience with the ‘mysterious stirring’ of the Holy Spirit. By making the Scriptures more accessible to lay men and women, the church has provided a powerful source for spiritual growth and transformation.”


How will you live out your love for God and serve your neighbor this week? If you’re not sure, here are some ideas:

Check the Think! Pray! Act! calendar for actions.

Find your local faith- or congregation-based community organizing network/organization and participate in their work and actions. In St. Louis, Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) is the place with which to get connected if you want to work as a person or community of faith with a broad coalition of faith communities and other community partners to work on systemic societal improvement.

What’s going on in your faith life? Let us know in the comments, in our e-mail list discussion group, or on social media.

Berrigan, Daniel, and John Dear. And the Risen Bread: Selected Poems, 1957-1997. New York: Fordham University Press, 1998.

Brueggemann, Walter. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.

Hausmann, Jutta. “The Topic of Violence: A Hermeneutical Challenge in Reading Psalms.” LWF Documentation 59 (2014): 81–90. https://www.lutheranworld.org/sites/default/files/LWF-DTPW-DOC_59_Psalms.pdf.

Klassen, John B. “Ever Ancient, Ever New: Lectio Divina Is Not Just for Monastics Anymore.” America Magazine, September 29, 2008. https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/669/article/ever-ancient-ever-new.

King, Martin Luther. “Exclusive: Newly Discovered 1964 MLK Speech on Civil Rights, Segregation & Apartheid South Africa.” Democracy Now!, January 19, 2015. http://www.democracynow.org/2015/1/19/exclusive_newly_discovered_1964_mlk_speech.

Mtata, Kenneth, Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr, and Miriam Rose. Singing the Songs of the Foreign Lands: Psalms in Contemporary Lutheran Interpretation. Documentation 59/2014. Leipzig, Germany: Evangelische Verlangsanstalt GmbH, the Lutheran World Federation, 2014. https://www.lutheranworld.org/content/resource-singing-songs-foreign-lands-psalms-contemporary-lutheran-interpretation.

Tooley, Mark. “On North Korea, Christians Should Dial Back the Bellicosity.” National Review, August 10, 2017. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/450328/robert-jeffress-north-korea-war-support-have-some-humility-pastor.

Wallis, Jim. The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/977202168.

Winner, Lauren F. “Lectio Divina and Divorce: Reflections in Twelve Parts about What Divorce Has to Teach the Church.” Anglican Theological Review 97.2 (2015): 281. http://www.anglicantheologicalreview.org/static/pdf/articles/winner_97.2.pdf.