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God's justice - 3

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A car hit a lady and her husband called 911. The operator asked, "Where are you?" The husband replied, "I'm on Eucolipstic Road." "Can you spell that for me?" the operator asked. "Uh ... how about I just drag her over to Oak so you can you pick her up there?"

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Is it not "both amusing and sad that whether you eat fish is now a moral issue, while whether you view porn or sleep around are issues of taste"?

—David Paul Deavel


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Mere Christianity: God's justice - 4


Jon Kennedy  

JONAL ENTRY 1255 | October 2 2012

A couple of loose ends on this discussion: the "cursing Psalms," and mercy.

C.S. Lewis's only book about the Bible is a study of the Psalms, and he was fascinated and somewhat repulsed about a quality of Psalms that I had hardly ever noticed among them (but I have never read the Psalms nearly as much as I should). Lewis questioned the very existence of many Psalms, wondering how such vile expressions of hatred against their neighbors could have ended up in the Bible, especially in the one book that is used the most in both Israel and the church for devotional reading.

These Psalms are what Lewis called "cursing Psalms," not because they use what we would call bad language, but because they ask God to punish their writers' (and the writers' "people's") enemies. And the punishment they specify for God to mete out is severe to the extent of being virtual curses. "Curse those who come against Israel" is typical of the sense of most of them.

But as said many times before in this series of reflections, God is not about "justice," so for the most part He ignores the Psalmists' prayers that he smite their enemies. (He does sometimes judge both Israel and her enemies in the times of the Bible, but for the most part He reserves the wearing of His "judge hat" for the Great Judgment that will follow the end of the age.) But also, consistent with what I said about the context of things being said in the Bible—who is sayng them and why—I want to suggest that the explanation for why these Psalms are in the Bible is that they are examples of "prophetic hyperbole" (over-the-top predictions of how their enemies, or God's enemies, are going to be judged or, in some cases, how the Psalmist hopes they'll be judged).

I've already talked about mercy several times, but want to add that I think it is something the Protestant world that I grew up in takes far too lightly. A member of an adult Sunday school class I taught years ago illustrated this by saying that he found it dismaying that we should be asking God for mercy, because God is supposed (in his theology) to be our friend. But as C.S. Lewis repeatedly points out, though God the Lion of Judah is on our side, He is not "a tame Lion"; we cannot presume upon his "friendship" because we must never forget our sinfulness and His utter intolerance for sin. Protestant theology emphasizes human sin and our need for salvation and sanctification (being made holy), but despite the importance of Sunday school in that tradition, our need for God to be merciful toward us is overshadowed by an overemphasis on His love and kindness toward us. This is probably because of the Protestant tendency to overemphasize evangelization (making their services and everything else about sinners needing salvation rather than believers needing to worship a holy God), but that's a topic for another time. And of course in saying this I am not "writing anyone off," of course, only trying to show how my mind has changed on these understandings and why...your mileage may vary.

In Orthodoxy, "Lord have mercy" is our most common prayer. In some liturgies, we repeat it forty times in succession. If we understand why this non-vain repetition is appropriate, we understand that it's because of God's perfect holiness and that we, no matter how "deified" or "godly" we become, never measure up. We dare not even approach Him without first taking into consideration our unworthiness and the fact that we can do so only through His mercy; thus even Isaiah the Prophet whose relationship with God was so vibrant that he heard God's voice continually, repeatedly confessed his "unclean lips" when he was given a mystic preview look at God on His throne.

I've thought about this emphasis on God's mercy a lot since becoming Orthodox eighteen years ago, and I find that "Lord have mercy" covers just about everything in life, which is what makes it the most appropriate all-around prayer. When an emergency vehicle on its way to a presumed accident or other emergency goes by, we know nothing about the circumstances beyond that there's an emergency somewhere up the road, but we know the "victims" need God's mercy. So we don't need a detailed prayer like "God, just look down on this emergency situation and just comfort those involved and just let them receive your deliverence..."; "God have mercy" covers it all, more eloquently. Saying it again, and yet again, puts us in good company, like Isaiah.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy


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