ENTRY 1255 | October
couple of loose ends on this discussion: the "cursing Psalms,"
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
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.
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 Biblewho is sayng them and whyI 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).
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.
"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.
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.
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