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I recently saw that Peter Leithart referred to John Day’s Crying for Justice: What the Psalms Teach Us about Mercy and Vengeance in an Age of Terrorism as the definitive treatment on the imprecatory psalms, and also wrote that the book was “balanced, meticulous, and convincing.”

Here are a few notes I took on some of the book’s major principles:

Day’s Thesis

"In circumstances of sustained injustice, hardened enmity, and gross oppression, it has always been appropriate for a believer to utter imprecations against enemies or to appeal for the onslaught of divine vengeance. In certain instances today, appeals to God for his curse or vengeance are fitting" (pp. 15-16). "It is legitimate at times for God's present people to utter prayers of imprecation or pleas for divine vengeance--like those in the psalms--against the recalcitrant enemies of God and his people. Such expression is consistent with the ethics of the Old Testament and finds corresponding echo in the New" (p. 109).

Three Groups of Imprecatory Psalms

1. Imprecation against societal enemy (58; 94)
2. Imprecation against nation or community (68; 74; 79; 83; 129; 137)
3. Imprecation against personal enemy (5; 6; 7; 9; 10; 17; 28; 31; 35; 40; 52; 54; 55; 56; 59; 69; 70; 71; 104; 109; 139; 140; 141; 143)

Three Major Solutions

1. Imprecatory psalms express evil emotions that should be suppressed or confessed as sin (C. S. Lewis, Walter Brueggemann).
2. They are utterances consonant with old covenant morality but inconsistent with new covenant ethics (Roy Zuck, J. Carl Laney, Meredith Kline).
3. Such words may be appropriately spoken only by Christ in relation to his work on the cross and only by his followers through him (James Adams, Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

Why These Solutions Are Unsatisfactory

1. The first position fails to adequately account for the imprecatory psalms being inspired by God and the profusion of imprecations in the psalms, which were incorporated in the canon. It also does not sufficiently address the piety of the psalmists and their ethical rationale, the legitimacy of their utterance in light of their OT theological foundations, and the presence of similar imprecations in the NT.

2. The second position overly restricts the definition of love and minimizes the fundamental ethical continuity between the testaments in the outworking of progressive revelation. It does not sufficiently account for the enduring validity of the Abrahamic promise or the presence of personalized imprecations in the NT.

3. The third position overstates David's position and function as a type of Christ, understates the reality of the historical situations that evoke the utterances, and evades the problem that David did not write all of the imprecatory psalms, let alone the other imprecations in Scripture.

In sum, these three perspectives all share the same fatal flaw: "each explanation ends up distancing the imprecatory psalms from legitimate prayers of God's people today. This distance is fundamentally foreign to the use of the psalms as they were passed down through history. Indeed, the Psalter in its entirety was incorporated into the Christian canon with the tacit affirmation that it remained a book of worship for God's people" (p. 35).

Foundations for Imprecation

The foundations for imprecation come most notably from:

1. The promise of divine vengeance in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-43).

2. The principle of divine justice in the lex talionis (e.g., Deut. 19:16-21)

3. The promise of divine cursing in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:2-3).

How Can It Be Right for Christians to Cry Out for Divine Vengeance and Violence, as in the Imprecatory Psalms?

1. The vengeance appealed for is not personally enacted. Rather, God is called upon to be the Avenger.

2. This appeal is based upon the covenant promises of God, most notable of which are "He who curses you, I will curse" (Gen. 12:30, and "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay" (Deut. 32:35). If God has so promised, then it would not seem wrong for his people to petition him (even passionately) to fulfill these promises.

3. Both testaments record examples of God's people on earth calling down curses or crying for vengeance. Yet there is no literary or theological intimation of divine disapproval over such sentiments being expressed. Indeed, the implication is that, in its appropriate place, such utterances are commendable (cf. the imprecatory psalms and the Pauline and Petrine curses of Gal. 1:8-9 and Acts 8:20).

4. Scripture further records an instance in which God's people in heaven, where there is no sin, cry out for divine vengeance and are comforted by the assurance of its impending enactment (Rev. 6:9-11). Since these martyred saints are perfected, their entreaty would presumably be "right."

New Testament

The NT data speaks in two directions:

1. The ethic of enemy-love and blessing is indeed intensified, and the implications of that ethic are more extensively explored and applied.

2. The presence of justified imprecation also insists that, in some fashion, the utterance of imprecation remains allowable within this elevated ethic of enemy-love and blessing, as it did in the imprecatory psalms.

In the Scriptures of both testaments two reactions toward enmity are given:

1. The characteristic virtue of love shown by God and his people

2. The other ethical response is for extreme instances, used when God's people face sustained injustice, hardened enmity, and gross oppression.


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Comments:


37 thoughts on “Crying for Justice”

  1. Chris Brauns says:

    Again, this is very important material.

    Some will accuse that it represents a bitter spirit.

    On the contrary, I believe that it is the foundation for avoiding bitterness.

    Attempts to dismiss and deny the need for justice lead to bitterness. Whereas, a confidence and trust in the justice of God will result in true compassion for the offenders when we realize that they must face Almighty God.

  2. dec says:

    chris:
    Good words. Can we then say that imprecatory prayers are a means of grace?!

  3. JBH says:

    Kline should not be subsumed under #2. His intrusion ethics do not fall prey to the criticism. His position is much more subtle than simple discontinuity.

  4. JT says:

    JBH: Day explains the way in which Kline sees the ethics of consummation intruding into the era of common grace.

    From what I understand, Kline’s approach has a difficult time adequately accounting for NT imprecations (1 Cor 16:22; Gal 1:8-9; 5:12; 2 Tim. 4:14; Rev. 6:9-10).

    How would Kline account for those passages?

    JT

  5. Stephen Stallard says:

    Thanks for dealing with an issue to which I have recently given extensive thought.

  6. J. Clark says:

    This glosses over the “right” of the pray-er to imagine the vengeance. It is one thing to pray for God’s justice, it is another thing to imagine your way of His doing it. Who has publicly prayed for the babies of their enemies to be smashed on a wall? I like Day’s analysis and solution. Does he address the temptation of the one praying to imagine his own view of God vengeance? This is where Lewis, I think, got it right. The Psalms being passed down through history in the cannon have nothing to do with everything being proper and right in them. We need to stop the this false dichotomy about scripture. David is not modeling the right way to pray against your enemy and Jephthah is not a model father either.

  7. Gunner says:

    Justin: If you have the time and the desire, could you post sometime about your reading habits as well as how you take notes when you’re reading and why you take/organize your notes the way you do?

  8. Chris Brauns says:

    Dec,

    Agreed, this is a “means of grace.”

    The more I work on forgiveness, the more I believe that the key to “unpacking forgiveness” (my title) is through faithful participation in the means of grace.

  9. Augustinian Successor says:

    Chris said …

    “Some will accuse that it represents a bitter spirit.

    On the contrary, I believe that it is the foundation for avoiding bitterness.

    Attempts to dismiss and deny the need for justice lead to bitterness. Whereas, a confidence and trust in the justice of God will result in true compassion for the offenders when we realize that they must face Almighty God.”

    Yes, indeed. I think also that understanding the imprecatory psalms requires an understanding that God loves His people and hate His enemies. In other words, the imprecatory psalms cannot be divorced from God’s hatred of His enemies.

    Psalm 139 says …

    “Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.”

    I think one implication is that the Catholic CHURCH alone is the people of God (Israel as the type of the Church – ecclesial in nature, not political or geographical). She alone has the prerogative to invoke the wrath and vengeance of God upon her enemies, for these are precisely GOD’s enemies.

    The US has no more moral high ground than Al-Qaeda EXCEPT when she (i.e. the US) conform to the Word of God as mediated through the Puritan worldview.

    The imprecatory psalms are therefore the cry of the Church who suffers for the sake of the Gospel, bearing the name of Christ, witnessing to the Truth, etc. St. Peter has said before that if we the People of God suffer for wrongdoing, then our suffering as Christians has no value. St. Paul tells us to leave room for wrath; St. James also exhorts suffering workers to endure hardship and submit to the perfect will of the Father, instead of rising. If we apply the imprecatory psalms to these situations, it makes sense.

    On the other hand, self-defence is a legitimate, a moral entitlement and natural right for Christians. But this is the sphere of the Law, which forbids murder and upholds sanctity of life. So, I think the continuity of the Old and New Testament (Reformed) AND Law-Gospel dichotomy (Lutheran) hermeneutics can help us here to better understand the imprecatory Psalms.

    Jason

  10. AerodynamicPenguin says:

    Very helpful! Thank you, Justin!

  11. AerodynamicPenguin says:

    Thank you, Justin — this is very helpful. I will need to get that book!

  12. jonathan says:

    This is a hard topic and obviously highly debated. I believe that even if imprecatory prayers were right, would we really be able to justify our imprecatory prayers to our Father? And if you can say yes to that, what motive do you have behind the prayer?

    In Biblical counseling, there’s this rule called, the “holding rule”. It states that if you do not know where the Bible stands on it, then do not commit to doing the action in fear that it may be sinful.

    Overall, I would say, imprecatory prayers MAY be okay, but you still have to ask yourself:
    1) What is my motivation?
    2) Will God be glorified?

    On the subject of “avoiding bitterness”, I believe, yes, it is good to rely upon God’s perfect justice. But will your action create a passive aggressive heart? Or will it lead you to confronting the sin of others?

  13. Daniel says:

    “The imprecatory psalms requires an understanding that God loves His people and hate His enemies.”
    With all due respect Jason, that’s hogwash. If the cross means anything, it’s precisely that God loves his enemies and is willing to die for them (and that we are called to follow his example).
    It’s not a fuzzy love, to be sure, but it certainly isn’t hate. “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” is probably the furthest thing from hate I could imagine, and biblically, it’s our most profound revelation of God.

    Further to claim that self-defense is a legitimate Christian ‘right’ is to play fast and loose with the Sermon on the Mount.
    Why are we in such a hurry to justify the wisdom of the world?

    J. Clark’s point about calling for justice is, I think, a needed counterpoint to the vice of wallowing in enemy-hatred.

    My two cents.
    -Daniel-

  14. LK says:

    I guess I’ll have to read the book. I’d always assumed that the OT principle of vengeance was transformed (not eradicated) by the cross, so that until judgment day we “put our enemies to death” by baptism – a kind of redemptive execution.

  15. LK says:

    Check…make that “the article.”

  16. Anonymous says:

    Daniel,

    What then is my ‘right’ when someone is beating the crap out of my sister when we were at the atm a year ago?

  17. Daniel says:

    Anonymous–who are you?
    Are you trying to make an argument from common sense?
    How might Jesus’ injunction to ‘turn the other cheek’, and ‘overcome evil with good’ apply to the scenario you’ve described?
    Are Christians called to respond to violence differently than non-Christians?

  18. A. B. Caneday says:

    Daniel,

    Are love and hate necessarily opposed to one another? If you think so, then how do you explain Psalm 5:4-6 and similar passages?

    The psalmist says,

    You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.

    Also, be careful how you read Jesus’ instruction in the Sermon on the Mount. Does not Jesus himself give instructions to his disciples at one point to carry a sword?

  19. Daryl says:

    Daniel is making the common mistake that says “love your enemies at the expense of your friends”.

    Turn the other cheek is an imperative based on strength, not weakness. A weak person gets no credit for turning the cheek to someone who they are terrified of, the strong man who fears no one, now that’s a turning of the cheek with some weight behind it.

    Are Christians to respond to violence differently the non-believers? Certainly, sometimes, however to show “love” to my sister’s attacker would show hatred towards her, so being “nice” to him would be wrong. Is it not loving to overcome someone physically in order to prevent further sin?

    That’s no just a common sense answer, it’s biblical. Remember, God loves all men, but he loves his people differently. He’ll do things for us that he won’t do for others. Consider Jesus on the cross, he wasn’t dying for his enemies, per se, he was dying for his church, so that they would no longer be his enemy.

    Also consider this verse:

    Matthew 24:21-22

    21″For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.

    22″Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

    Notice that he shows nno apparent concern for the non-elect, he is cutting short the days for the sake of his elect. (Just an example of how he loves his people differently)

  20. Anonymous says:

    Daniel,

    I would prefer to leave myself anonymous. What do you mean am I making an argument from common sense? I am addressing your theological conviction with my real life practical situation? Are you saying my ‘right’ according to Jesus is to just sit there, look the other way and let my sister get beat senseless?

    By the way, I am not just some random person on a Christian blog trying to argue with you. I am a devout Christian studying for the ministry.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Ardel,

    could you give us chapter and verse with that one… Jesus instructing his disciples to carry a sword?

    Thanks,
    Brian W

  22. Daniel says:

    Dr. Caneday, using the Psalms to soften Jesus’ message won’t do. Christ’s self-sacrifice must take hermeneutical priority for the self-understanding of the Christian colony. So then Psalm 5 approximates the truth (God does abhor evil), but Jesus’ self-sacrifice is the fullness of truth (God dies out of love for ALL those who practice evil). I’ll simply also point out that Ben Witherington (among others) has clearly shown that Jesus’ suggestion that his disciples take up one or two swords cannot be used in a defense of violence.

    Daryl–you are making the mistake that says “love your friends at the expense of your enemies” (which Jesus explicitly contradicts). Simultaneously loving our friends and our enemies takes a great deal of creativity, I’ll grant you that, but it doesn’t negate the call to love our enemies (I for one would argue that active Christian nonviolence is entirely different from the passivism folks here seem to be afraid of).
    Additionally your point about so-called limited atonement can only possibly be non-heretical if you highlight the calling of the Church for the sake of the world. This is where my anti-Reformed bias burns strongest because I feel that it impugns God’s just character (and contradicts the very spirit of the cross).

    Anonymous–my point is simply that Jesus doesn’t give us a practical ‘how-to’. He creates a people who manifest the reality of God’s Reign by their refusal to participate in the old world order, of which violence is part and parcel. To reduce responses to the ATM-beating scenario described above to either fight or flight is to show an unChristian lack of creativity, in my opinion. We are better than this.

    Am I the only one who follows Hauerwas on this point?

    Thanks for the conversation.
    Blessings,
    -Daniel-

  23. Daryl says:

    Daniel,

    You consider that it impugns God’s character because you seem to think he needs to run his decisions by us people to be sure that they are fair. Remember the clay/potter thing? Anything God does to/with us is right and fair and holy. Anything.

    I’ve heard the non-violent vs. passivism arguement (attending a Mennonite Church as I do) it doesn’t wash. Nowhere does the Bible teach a blanket non-violence.

    Just curious, where does Jesus contradict the idea of loving your friends at the expense of your enemies?

    Also, (sorry, this is a bit disjointed), when has the church ever thought that God loved all people exactly the same way? Did/does God love the non-elect in the same saving way that he loves his elect? Not in Scripture he doesn’t.

  24. Daryl says:

    Daniel,

    What is your “Biblically creative” answer to the situation at the ATM?

  25. Dave says:

    David Powlison has an excellent JBC article on gospel-centered anger, entitled “The Constructive Displeasure of Mercy.” It pictures the gospel in its reaction against sin. It makes the case that anger against sin is appropriate, designating it as wrong and wanting it to stop; mercy agrees with anger and seeks to move in and stop the sin. This is what Christ did when he saw us in sin, no?

    I think this advocates stepping in to any act of violence (including against sisters) with rightoues anger. But, there must also be mercy, esp. considering the knolwedge that the only good in me is Christ. It is so hard to pray imprecatory psalms appropriately, looking to God’s holiness and judgment of sin rather than standing over in my own false judgment. Still, difficulty should not rule it out.

    Maybe an example. You tell me: Today, I praised the Lord from my car for his justice and faithfulness to the oppressed when I learned that the highest member of the Khmer Rouge was arrested in Cambodia to face a tribunal for crimes against humanity. He was partly responsible for the killing of over 1.5 million people during Pol Pot’s reign. Cambodia is still a miserable place because of him. Eventhough his reign has since ceased, I am thankful for this arrest.

  26. Daniel says:

    Daryl,
    I’ve answered you on my blog, so as not to clog up this discussion further (see here).
    Blessings,
    -Daniel-

  27. A. B. Caneday says:

    Daniel,

    Psalm 5:4-6 does not merely say that the Lord hates evil. Read the psalm again. Here it is.

    You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.

  28. Daniel says:

    Dr. Caneday, that’s precisely my point. Psalm 5 must be critiqued by and subjugated to the cross.
    How else can it be truly reconciled to passages like Luke 6:35 (“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people.”–by loving our enemies we are following God’s example) or Romans 5:10 (“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life?”–see Paul’s parenthetical in 5:7: “For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.”)?
    I guess it all boils down to how we see the cross. Which is why atonement debates are so important, and why limited atonement is borderline heretical (but of course, one person’s heresy is another person’s orthodoxy…).
    -Daniel-

  29. zookeeper says:

    interesting and troubling read.

    one hand, scripture clearly and explicitly prohibits cursing (lk 6:28; rm 12:14; 1 pt 3:9).
    imprecatory prayers are by definition spoken curses.
    i would expect a discussion of imprecatory prayers to deal with these commands.
    based on these verses, i do not believe imprecatory prayers are permissible for believers.

    david did not have the benefit of progressive revelation.
    his prayers are not normative nor illustrative of God’s will (amen to j. clark).
    they are still beneficial and inspired in instructing us in intimacy and honesty towards God.

    on the other hand, if we love good, we must hate evil.
    i think it is perfectly fine to pray for God to execute justice on His terms and timetable.
    my personal opinion is that it is fine to ask God to remove an unrighteous, evil, or even incompetent leader/body from authority.

  30. Augustinian Successor says:

    Daniel,

    It may be hogwash to you, but the Bible is pretty clear. The Psalms are just as equally inspired as the New Testament. And as such, Bible is *not* self-contradictory. If it were, then your take is not more valid than another person’s or mine. After all, what is stopping you from say extending Christ’s grace to impenitent homosexuals, etc.? Why should teh injunctions of *both* OT and NT on homosexuality “take priority” over the Cross which is supposed to be the highest expression of love of God for humanity? How about those who have never heard the Gospel? Why should they too be punished in everlasting comdemnation?

    Please remember that Our Lord Himself explicitly said that he did not come down to abrogate the Law, but came to fulfil them. Many of the Psalms are Messianic Psalms. They speak of Christ. Therefore, Christ is not against the Psalms but is the very living embodiment of the Psalms.

    Hence it is no surprise that Jesus never prayed for those outside the Church, in fact thank the Father in Heaven for predestinating this portion of humanity to ignorance and blindness (Matthew 11:25-27), spoke in parables to the crowd to confuse them so that they would not turn and be healed and converted (Matthew 13:10-15), John 17 of Christ’s high priestly prayer where He only prayed for the Church … no conflict there with the Psalms (imprecatory or not).

    You also said that Christians are to turn the other cheek. Yes, but does that mean that Christians are stand by whilst harm is being inflicted on him/her and those with him/her? If this is the case, what stop there? If that is turning the other cheek, then it also precisely entails that the Christian not “press charges” (as they say in the US), or lodge a police report and so on. Yet, Christ obeyed and respected the authorities who St. Paul said were “ministers of justice” (Romans 12) punishing evil-doers and upholding the law. Self-defence is not only legitmate but a duty for Christians, just as the man has a duty to provide for the family, he has that duty to defend his family.

    And you may not agree with limited atonement, but you cannot argue with the words of Jesus in those passages which I’ve shared.

    Jason

  31. A. B. Caneday says:

    Are you reading Psalm 5 carefully enough? It expressly states that the Lord God hates all who do wrong. Furthermore, the psalm states plainly that bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.

    Are you suggesting that the Lord God no longer hates all who do wrong, and that the Lord no longer abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men?

    Are you suggesting that God’s hatred for evildoers and his abhorance for murderers and for people of treachery has been quenched? On what basis has his hatred for sinners been quenched? Surely, you do not mean to say that God’s hatred for the wicked and his wrath against the wicked is now quelled because of Christ’s sacrificial death, are you?

    Keep in mind John 3:36“but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” Keep in mind, also, that humans are under God’s wrath not only because they reject God’s Son. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, which is to say that Jesus’ coming into the world did not render humans culpable as sinners and place humans under God’s wrath. Humans were already under God’s wrath and they are under God’s wrath because they are sinners in Adam. Thus, humans who are already under God’s wrath also already stand condemned before God’s judgment bar for they have rejected God’s Son through whom alone no condemnation comes to us (John 3:17-18). In other words, as John tells us in 3:18, in Christ’s coming, God has rendered his judgment already. All who were under his wrath but who now believe in God’s Son already receive God’s verdict of the Last Day, namley, Not Condemned. On the other hand, all who were under God’s wrath who does not believe in his Son stands condemned already for they have not believed in God’s one and only Son.

    What the psalmist says in Psalm 5 still stands. God continues to hate evildoers, murderers, and people of treachery. God’s wrath remains upon them.

    As for your other arguments, I will leave them, but not because they are withering in any sense. Others, I think, have already addressed them, for the most part.

  32. Daniel says:

    A brief reply is in order, and then I’ll move on.

    Jason–I didn’t say the Bible was self-contradictory. That’s in fact what I believe (and I think one has to be blind not to see it), but my points could have been made by appealing to something like ‘progressive revelation’ (a la Ben Witherington).

    Neither was my claim that you can ‘pick and choose’ from Scripture because some passages are in tension with others. Rather (and this has been a consistent point of mine), I believe the enemy-love of God revealed in Christ at the cross must be allowed to critique all that contradicts it. Scripture must be read and interpreted Christologically (this is totally different from picking and choosing by whim).

    Your take on Matthew 11 does no justice to the text. I simply suggest you reread it.

    “You also said that Christians are to turn the other cheek”–well actually, that’s what Jesus said.
    “it also precisely entails that the Christian not ‘press charges'”–Christians not suing? How biblical! I think you’re entirely correct on this point. I don’t know how else to take Jesus’ teachings seriously.
    “Christ obeyed and respected the authorities who St. Paul said were ‘ministers of justice’ (Romans 12) punishing evil-doers and upholding the law.”–You’re actually thinking of Romans 13. Which should always be read in light of what Paul says in Romans 12 (notice how it implies Christians can have no part in retribution against evildoers). I might add that Jesus’ critique of the ‘authorities’ is precisely that they were corrupt–the crucifixion was a miscarriage of human justice. That’s why Luke has the centurion say “surely this man was innocent!”–so much for ‘respecting’ government…
    “Self-defence is not only legitimate but a duty for Christians”–can you prove this to me from Jesus’ words? I’m pretty sure you’re getting this idea from elsewhere…

    Dr. Caneday, yes, I have read (and will read as many times as you ask me to), carefully read, Psalm 5. My point is simply that, because of Jesus, we must say that David was flat out WRONG. God does not hate evil doers. He dies for them out of love (and we are called to be imitators of Christ).
    It’s biblically simplistic to equivocate between ‘divine wrath’ and divine hatred. The biblical imagination can easily have a wicked person (on who the ‘wrath of God’ rests) be loved by God. This is the state of every Christian prior to rebirth, is it not?

    I think that’s enough for me. Thanks for the lively dialogue. I hope it was helpful for someone.
    Peace,
    -Daniel-

  33. A. B. Caneday says:

    Daniel,

    Your explanation is to say, “My point is simply that, because of Jesus, we must say that David was flat out WRONG.

    Thank you for your explanation. Now I understand.

  34. C. Petitt, RE, Bellewood (Day's Church) says:

    Daniel said and quoted:
    < "The imprecatory psalms requires an understanding that God loves His people and hate His enemies."
    With all due respect Jason, that’s hogwash.>

    But, what about God’s willingness to curse your enemies, and what about God’s statement that His is the vengeance? What about God loving Jacob but hating Esau? What about God being a JEALOUS God? Smiting the Egyptians? Tearing down Jerico? Fire-and-brimstoning our friends from Sodom and Gomorrah?

    God is not nice-nice. God is GOD! With all that implies, BTW. He decides What He will be!

    Best,
    Chuck

  35. Augustinian Successor says:

    Daniel,

    I’m afraid you do not know what progressive revelation means. Why do I say that? Because progressive revelation is *not* self-contradictory. Progressive revelation is God’s gradual unfolding of His will over time, His Self-Disclosure in time and space, in history … so what God says then chimes in with what He says now, so to speak.

    OR ELSE you can’t talk of progressive revelation because it’s not progressive in the first place. Why? Because Progressive revelation implies and entails that what God says now must be a development or logically linked with what He said then. Otherwise, it’s neither progressive nor a revelation since God is God. He cannot lie. If God’s revelation is self-contradictory, then your pontification is no more valid than mine. Hope you understand this.

    Thank you.

  36. JT says:

    Daniel,

    It seems like you’re functioning with a canon inside a canon, pitting Scripture against Scripture.

    It seems to me like you haven’t wrestled sufficiently with a number of factors: (1) as a literary and theological genre, the Psalms are presented as normative–not the musings of those who sometimes got it right and sometimes got it wrong. In other words, it’s in a different category from, say, some of the speeches of Job’s friends. Wtih your hermeneutic, one could basically reject anything in the Psalms one doesn’t like or that doesn’t agree with your flat reading of Jesus’ love ethic. Your solution (the Psalmists are often wrong) works at one level, but it’s simply way too easy. (2) I’m not sure you’ve wrestled with just how pervasive imprecation is in the Psalms–it’s not just in a few isolated places. (3) I’m not sure you’ve wrestled with how Gen 12:1-3 and its abiding significance play into this.

    A couple of questions: (1) do you think Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree (which we all know has more to do with an actual fig tree!) bother you! (2) Are you bothered by the Paul’s anathematizing of gospel-deniers and the saints–in heaven!–beseeching God to express the full fury of his vengeance?

    Thanks!

    JT

  37. Daniel says:

    First of all, thanks for all the interaction. I’m somewhat flattered that both you JT, and Dr. Caneday would want to set me straight. Our worldviews may be too far at odds for any one of us to budge, but if the exchange is helpful to others, perhaps it will have been worth it.

    Very briefly, Jason, different people use the terms ‘progressive revelation’ in different ways. This frequently goes back to the way people assume Scripture is inspired (dictation, verbal plenary, whatever). I do believe God’s self disclosure was ‘progressive’ (this is included in the idea that God is BEST known through Jesus), but I don’t think you like my take on Scripture, so there’s not much of point in arguing about it.

    JT–I think most people function with a canon inside a canon. I’m not pitting Scripture against Scripture–some biblical writers pits themselves against other biblical writers. I don’t say this because of some “flat reading of Jesus’ love ethic”–Hays has famously argued the same thing about Paul and John on the Jews (in his The Moral Vision of the NT). Since I think there are certain tensions within Scripture, it seems obvious to me that there needs to be something that is MOST authoritative (a canon within the canon)–namely Christ.
    Rejecting this approach results in a softening of Jesus’ teachings (one of my pet-peeves with certain circles of evangelicalism)–particularly where they contradict other biblical injunctions or views.
    In response to your questions: no, Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree does not ‘bother’ me at all; Paul’s anathematizing of gospel-deniers doesn’t ‘bother’ me; and yes, there’s a certain tone in John’s Apocalypse which is too vindictive for my taste. But ultimately, who cares about my sensibilities? The problem isn’t what bothers or doesn’t bother me, the problem is what flies in the face of Jesus’ teachings and lifestyle (and deathstyle I would add).
    A Christian explicitly cursing anyone in Davidic form is a failure of discipleship. I don’t see how Jesus and Paul’s teachings on enemy-love could possibly be reconciled to that kind of practice.

    Ok, I think that’s it, for real.
    Peace,
    -Daniel-

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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