Honesty and Liberation

by Arthur W. Anderson

Sometimes reading the Bible for devotions drives one up a wall instead of up to heaven! For a stretch, on recent mornings, I turned to a sequential reading· of the Psalms for solace, reassurance, and encouragement. Such choice passages were there alright. But embedded in the same passages were prayers and cries of invective against enemies. “Repay them for their deeds and for their evil work, repay them for what their hands have done, and bring back upon them what they deserve” (Ps. 28:4). Or, take my favorite Psalm, 139, in which the poet says about the enemies of God, “I hate them with a perfect hatred” (v. 22). In Psalm 26, the writer says that he will not sit with bad people—deceitful, hypocritical, blood-thirsty, and scam-practicing sinners—and then has the gall to say, “But I lead a blameless life; redeem and be merciful to me” (Why this prayer if he is so innocent?) (Ps. 26:11). Put all this down to editorial license or to ancient, pre-Christian ideas, but even so I must confess that it shoots jagged holes in my theology!

Though these Psalms stun my Christian sensibilities, I must say that I find a compelling truthfulness in them. For one thing, they lay bare the capacity for violence within us as God’s people. We have come almost to baptize Will Roger’s statement, “I never met a man I didn’t like!”, as Christian love; but it isn’t necessarily so. I am too much shocked at the violent feelings that erupt out of my own nice-guy disposition. Furthermore, I have to insist on my own innocence before I can admit my wrong. Let’s admit it, one does not have to go very deep into the fellowship of Christian believers to find those who want to do others in. If it does not come from our ferocious nature, it can come from our passion for perfection or our Christian prejudice.

The Psalms have a way of getting down to the deep-rooted ambivalences of the way we are, what we value, or where we stand. Do they upset me? You bet they do. But the poet’s honest recognition also liberates me and leads me to a more profound piety that puzzles me all the way to the healing of the cross!