By Dr. David Barker Marcion, a 2nd C AD theologian, rejected the OT (and some of the NT) because he viewed it as “pre-Christian” or “less-than-Christian.” The question needs to be asked as to whether the church has continued this thinking by avoiding lament psalms in general and rejecting curse (imprecatory) psalms in particular. In both the liturgies of mainline churches as well in the Scripture reading practice of evangelical churches the following section of Psalm 139 is commonly left out (a confession made to me by a worship leader in one of our Baptist churches):
If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them as my enemies. (vv. 19-22)
To omit this section and other “psalms of violence” in our rhythms and practices of prayer and worship does the following:
- It refuses to affirm the full authority of the Bible. Yes, these psalms are poetic and hyperbolic, but that is part of what it is to affirm all Scripture as “God-breathed.”
- It disobeys the Apostle Paul’s instruction to sing the psalms; and there does not seem to be an exception for the supposed “less-than-Christian” ones. If fact, he used imprecation himself (Gal 1:8-9), as did Jesus and other NT writers.
- It removes the voice of the victims of violence and makes them/us “speechless and apathetic in the face of the overwhelming power of their suffering” (Erich Zengler, A God of Vengeance? [Westminster John Knox], 85).
- It marginalizes a voice of worship when the Apostle Paul said of God, “’It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19 quoting Deut 32:35).
- It fails to recognize the multi-faceted nature of God’s character described in both violent and anti-violent texts found in both Testaments.
- It fails to embrace the Abrahamic Covenant, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse” (Gen 12:3) as a legitimate inheritance of the church (Rom 4:16-17; Ga 3:29).
So, when it comes to ISIS and other movements that propagate terror, violence, and brutality, a voice of worship of God is:
Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. (Ps 3:7)
Yes, we refer vengeance/justice/judgment back to God. No, it is not a prayer for personal vengeance (Jesus’ teaching to love our enemy [cf. Prov 25:21] comes into play here).
Marcion was declared a heretic because of his view of Scripture. I wonder if we have unwittingly allowed Marcion back into the church.
David Barker serves as academic dean and vice president of academics and student affairs, Heritage Theological Seminary, Cambridge, ON. This article originally appeared on the seminary’s blog.