Monday, September 16, 2013

Lamenting the lack of laments

The lack of a computer has meant more time for other things, and I have been trying to finish off reading Wenham's The Psalter Reclaimed. Wenham has a very good treatment of the imprecatory psalms, i.e. psalms like 109 and 137 that call upon God to bring devastating vengeance to the wicked. He draws particularly on Zenger as he does this.

Zenger is particularly interesting because he is a R.Catholic monk reacting to the Vatican II changes that saw 'difficult' parts of the psalms omitted during the monastic reading/singing cycle. This, naturally, goes to the heart of the question of how the Psalms can and should be read as Christian scripture, and as songs and prayers for today. Obviously Christians have long had trouble with these verses and how they mesh with the NT teaching.

In Zenger's view these psalms represent the idea of longing for justice in a world full of injustice and suffering. Psalms of lament and imprecation "address situations where injustice cannot be righted", they are the cries of the utterly crushed and weak for whom only God can be their avenger, only God can bring true justice.

The absence of such psalms, of lament-type songs in general, in the church is in fact an indictment upon us, for our weak theology, rather than the expression of our more sophisticated morality. Our lives are so suffering-free, our difficulties so minor, our accommodations and compromises so pervasive, our complicity with unjust authorities so ubiquitous, that we have nothing to lament, and our songs so banal they offer nothing but more stupifiers to dull the edge of life. We do not long for justice, but comfortability. We do not express solidarity with the church in chains and under persecution in other places, we wish them well, like James 2:16.

Zenger writes:

Those who sing these songs sing them as a cry for change and a melody of longing for a world without tears, usually in melanchly because this worldwill never exist without tears. Therefore they sing them as songs of protest and struggle. All of this harmonizes as a powerful song of resistance against the thin melodies that sing of a life of indifferent self-satisfaction and idyllic surrender to God.

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