Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Problems with the Psalms. . .

A friend sent me some notes on the redone Breviary (Liturgy of the Hours) and specifically about its abbreviation of the body of the Psalms and its excising of certain problematic verses of Psalms.  Now none of this happened recently and most of it began a lifetime ago.  All this is of great interest to the priests who are expected to pray the Breviary daily.  But what does it say about us and how comfortable we are with the words of God?

Check below to see what was omitted:

Three Psalms (57/58, 82/83, and 108/109 [*]) were expunged in their entirety from the pages of the Liturgy of the Hours (have a look at them some time), while three others (77/78, 104/105, 105/106) were confined to Advent, Christmastide, Lent, and Eastertide. The following verses were permanently omitted from other psalms[**]:
Psalm 5 – 10 Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of their many transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. Psalm 20/21 – 8 Your hand will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you. 9 You will make them like a fiery furnace when you appear. The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them. 10 You will destroy their offspring from the earth, and their children from among humankind. 11 If they plan evil against you, if they devise mischief, they will not succeed. 12 For you will put them to flight; you will aim at their faces with your bows. Psalm 27/28 – 4 Repay them according to their work, and according to the evil of their deeds; repay them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward. 5 Because they do not regard the works of the LORD, or the work of his hands, he will break them down and build them up no more. Psalm 30/31 – 17 Do not let me be put to shame, O LORD, for I call on you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go dumbfounded to Sheol. 18 Let the lying lips be stilled that speak insolently against the righteous with pride and contempt. Psalm 34/35 – 3 Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers. 4 Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life. Let them be turned back and confounded who devise evil against me. 5 Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the LORD driving them on. 6 Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them. 7 For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life. 8 Let ruin come on them unawares. And let the net that they hid ensnare them; let them fall in it to their ruin. … 20 For they do not speak peace, but they conceive deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land.  21 They open wide their mouths against me; they say, “Aha, Aha, our eyes have seen it.” … 24 Vindicate me, O LORD, my God, according to your righteousness, and do not let them rejoice over me. 25 Do not let them say to themselves, “Aha, we have our heart’s desire.” Do not let them say, “We have swallowed you up.” 26 Let all those who rejoice at my calamity be put to shame and confusion; let those who exalt themselves against me be clothed with shame and dishonor.
Psalm 39/40 – 14 Let all those be put to shame and confusion who seek to snatch away my life; let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire my hurt. 15 Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”
Psalm 53/54:5  He will repay my enemies for their evil. In your faithfulness, put an end to them. Psalm 54/55:15  Let death come upon them; let them go down alive to Sheol; for evil is in their homes and in their hearts. Psalm 55/56:6b-7  As they hoped to have my life, 7 so repay them for their crime; in wrath cast down the peoples, O God! Psalm 58/59 – 5 You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel. Awake to punish all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah  6 Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city.  7 There they are, bellowing with their mouths, with sharp words on their lips—for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”  8 But you laugh at them, O LORD; you hold all the nations in derision. … 11 Do not kill them, or my people may forget; make them totter by your power, and bring them down, O Lord, our shield. 12 For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. For the cursing and lies that they utter, 13 consume them in wrath; consume them until they are no more. Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob. Selah 14 Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city. 15 They roam about for food, and growl if they do not get their fill. Psalm 62/63 – 9 But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; 10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword, they shall be prey for jackals. 11 But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped. Psalm 68/69 – 22 Let their table be a trap for them, a snare for their allies. 23 Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually. 24 Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them. 25 May their camp be a desolation; let no one live in their tents. 26 For they persecute those whom you have struck down, and those whom you have wounded, they attack still more. 27 Add guilt to their guilt; may they have no acquittal from you. 28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous. Psalm 78/79 – 6 Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name. 7 For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation. … 12 Return sevenfold into the bosom of our neighbors the taunts with which they taunted you, O Lord! Psalm 109/110:6  He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter heads over the wide earth. Psalm 136/137 – 7 Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!” 8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! 9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock! Psalm 138/139 – 19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—20 those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil! 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? 22 I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. Psalm 139/140 – 9 Those who surround me lift up their heads; let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them! 10 Let burning coals fall on them! Let them be flung into pits, no more to rise! 11 Do not let the slanderer be established in the land; let evil speedily hunt down the violent! Psalm 140/141:10  Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I alone escape. Psalm 142/143:12  In your steadfast love cut off my enemies, and destroy all my adversaries, for I am your servant.
Not being Roman Catholic, I did not know of the omission.  Nevertheless, being Lutheran I am fully aware of the editing of lessons and the questionable criteria used by those who oversee lectionary revision (mostly the RCL).  In an effort to avoid unpleasant words from God, we simply remove those sections from the readings appointed for the day.  It is not a new practice, by any means, but it illustrates the lengths we will go to escape problematic words spoken by the Lord through His apostles and prophets.  They may be "God-breathed" but that is not enough to prevent us from editing the Lord.

I have had several things come up over the years.  I have heard how insensitive it is to women who cannot conceive to hear of the barren women mentioned in Scripture.  I have heard how insensitive it is to speak of disabilities or to call those with these disabilities crippled or lame etc...  I have heard how insensitive it is for God to turn people over to the desires of their sinful hearts.  I have heard how insensitive it is to speak of behaviors as sinful that the world has deemed morally upright and normal.  I could go on.  You get the idea.  But the question is misdirected.  It is not the Scriptures that have the problem.  We are the ones with the problem.

Whether the Psalms or the Prophets or the Gospels or other books of the Bible, the problem lies not with God and His Word but with our own sinful hearts and our refusal to be subject to the truth (that is, to a truth not sifted through the politically correct ideas of what is acceptable to our apparently weak and fragile egos and sensibilities.  
      The real problem . . . is not with the psalm, but with ourselves. We modern Christians are far too disposed to establish our personal sentiments, our own spontaneous feelings, as the standard for our prayer. Thus, if the words of a particular prayer (in this case, a psalm inspired by the Holy Spirit) express emotions and responses with which we do not “feel” comfortable, we tend to think that we are being insincere in praying it. Contemporary Christians have made a virtual fetish of spontaneity in worship, and sincerity nowadays is measured by pulse rhythm. One would think that our Lord had said: “I have come that you may have sincere and heartfelt emotions, and have them more abundantly.”
       It is a big mistake to adopt this attitude, for it places even the authority of God’s inspired Word under the tribunal of our subjective sentiments. Is it not obvious that to set up our own feelings as the measure of our worship is utterly arrogant? The proper standard for the worship of God is already established in His unfailing Word, and no one will pray as he should unless he submits his prayer entirely to the authority of that Word. Otherwise there is a real danger that our worship will express only the unredeemed sentiments of unrepentant hearts.
       If we are going to pray as Christians, it is essential that we submit ourselves unreservedly to the authority of the Holy Spirit who speaks in the inspired words of the psalms. In the present case, this will likely mean ignoring our feelings on the matter and going on to understand exactly what this psalm does, in fact, say.  (Christ in the Psalms [Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2000], 215)


David Gray said...


Ted Badje said...

The pagan nations around OT Israel sacrificed children. I have no problem with the precatory psalms.