This article is written because there is discussion among christians: can we sing the psalms of revenge? Isn’t the gospel about love and forgiveness? That’s true! At the same time: Christ is also Judge. That’s where the psalms of revenge are about (Orginally Posted in Dutch on April 17, 2012 by jmhaak).
Klaas Wieringa turns against a churchculture preaching applicability and festivities whilst ignoring grim counterparts like the psalms of revenge (in a Dutch christian newspaper Nederlands Dagblad, April 12 2012). Striking: in a secular newspaper (NRC Handelsblad) on the same day, an opinionated article by Jan Kuitenbrouwer appears. He criticizes the Dutch compulsion to make everything accessible. Even the gospel has been subjected to this demand, by the likes of the show ‘The Passion’. Are these men unable to digest the new spirit of the age, or is something else the matter?
Wieringa’s article touches a sore point (judging by the amount of reactions in het Nederlands Dagblad of April 14 alone). He’s called a classic grumbler, some point out the danger of church abandonement, and “psalms of revenge are out of our time”. There are quite substantial issues on the table. How do we go on: can we choose between refusing and upholding churches in the near future, when it comes to psalms of revenge, or perhaps, some lighter contraverse?
To get along with each other, we will have to show (deeper) motives. Why is it enriching to sing psalms of revenge, like Wieringa says? On the other hand: do the people that refuse know what they choose to ignore? Has the church of all ages held the Psalms integrally high?
Let’s use Psalm 139 as a guide in this discussion. This psalm is often chosen to confess how deep God knows and loves us (vs. 1-18). Until verse 19: “If only you, God, would kill the wicked.Get away from me, you bloodthirsty men!” Do you still want to put this psalm on a wedding or birth announcement? What if your friends come to the service? These lyrics repel; no one will stay with the church. Refusing to sing, refusing to play these psalms, we distinctly act on this sentiment. And didn’t Christ pray right on the moment of his imminent bloodshed Psalm 139:19:”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) Then this is outdated, in Christ!
Saviour ánd judge
What we perceive as difficult, contradictory or outdated is in one psalm. Isn’t it striking how the most beautiful psalms show this duplicity; i.e. Psalm1, 36, 92 and 103-104? Psalms that testify Gods deep love (63:4), yes his love for all people (i.e. 67, 87) have these shear undigestable lyrics. There you have the pain. For certain: God has moved decisively in Christ and that is why the church teaches – in accordance to the psalms of revenge – to leave God to retaliate (Rom 12:19) And indeed: if there is no caution around the (rightful place of) the psalms of revenge, they sound like a curse in church.
But then we continue reading the Bible. The souls massacred to witness cry out: “How long, Master, the holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth (Rev 6:10)? How far off from Psalm 139 is this? And doesn’t every horrid word of revenge in the Old Testament pale next to the judgment of Christ the Judge (Rev 14 and 19). The revengeful lyrics we can’t rhyme, the psalms (of revenge) point unitedly towards the one Lord who is Saviour ánd Judge. With psalm 2 the church evokes us to kiss the Son as only alternative to imminent threat. Speaking of revenge then, is expressing grace. A last call. And did our Lord not do the same (Matthew 23:27)?
Are festivities and applicability (Wieringa) or accessibility (Kuitenbrouwer) the dominant factors in church? Unexpected comments from outsiders give food for thougth. What do we say to suffering churches and what is the reaction to the fatwa that all churches in the Middle-East must disappear? What hope is there for parents in Syria or elsewhere, who retrieve their maimed children? Who cares about the environment – since the financial crisis has gotten almost everyone’s attention? And why does Psalm 139 end with the prayer to God that I myself may live right? No doubt, there are other arguments besides the papers of April 14, like cultural elements (an urge for amusement) and elements from current religion (feel good, don’t judge) that have a role in church culture. The testimony of the psalms of revenge (among others) that the Judge will come, is necessary for the world and herself: it brings us to Him, the Saviour giving us entrance to life. Talking about accessibility…
Nederlands Dagblad, 17 april 2012
Singing for justice in Syria: Judge of the world: intervene, redeem! A cry for justice for Syria.