Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Psalms are so violent!

"I don't like the parts of the psalms that talk about war and vengeance and squashing my enemies like bugs. I mean, some psalms are really beautiful,  but these  other ones...aren't we supposed to love our enemies, to be peaceful and forgiving?"

Today's Office of Readings  put me in mind of this complaint. Apparently King David is celebrating and thanking God for some victory. Mixed in with the praise and thanksgiving is a lot of gloating:

I pursued and overtook my foes, never turning back till they were slain.  I smote them so they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet.. I crushed them fine as dust before the wind; trod them down like dirt in the streets...foreign nations came to me cringing....( from Ps 18)

Kinda harsh, don't ya think? You can almost hear the "BWAH-HA-HA-HA!"

Luckily, we don't have to make any judgments about Kind David or the righteousness of whatever battle he is celebrating in this psalm. We do have to decide what to do with such language in our prayers. Here's some ideas. 

1. Suppose you have just made some huge strides towards overcoming the worst of your faults. You know--the one you have to confess every single time you go to confession. The one that never seems to improve. Suddenly, through a combination of grace and grit, it's no longer a problem. And you are now making strides in the opposing virtue. Wouldn't the victory boast of psalm 18 express perfectly your feelings towards the evil inclinations you have crushed, and  towards the evil spirits that had tempted you to this sin?

2. Imagine that you have read in the news of some impressive pro-life victory in the courts or in an election. Or you've just read some impressive statistics of the growth of the Church in, say, Africa? Again, these words would be just the thing to celebrate success against the forces of error and death, would they not?

3. Imagine Jesus praying this psalm and anticipating his own victory over sin, Satan, and death. Fr. John Brook, in his commentary The School of Prayer, says "It was on the cross, not the battlefield, that the great victory over our enemies was won. As we pray the psalm we rejoice in the triumph of the cross."

So you see, there are enemies one should be happy to crush, smite, and squash like bugs.