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August 27, 2007

More thoughts on those ’difficult psalms’

I'll say this much for raging insomnia: It gives you a chance to catch up on your reading. The other night I finally managed to finish Chris Tiegreen's Violent Prayer, which I put on the recommended reading list months ago when I was only partway through it. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Not only does it teach some rarely heard but desperately needed truths about prayer, but it (finally) soothed me to sleep at 3 in the morning. Not that it's boring -- quite the contrary. But it is, in a strange way -- considering that it's all about fighting a very real battle with a vicious enemy -- comforting. I think that's precisely because it does acknowledge that the battle and the enemy are real, because that means acknowledging that prayer is just as real -- that it's not some passive exercise but one of the most powerful weapons we have.

It also has a chapter subtitled "Praying the Difficult Psalms," which elaborates on what Diane wrote on that subject last week. I haven't yet read the article she linked to, but this section of Tiegreen's book is so far the best treatment of this tough topic that I've ever read. A sample:

. . . We live in a different day than the Old Testament psalmists. In that day, Israel was the expression of the kingdom of God, and hostile nations were the expression of Satan's enmity. God's mercy is forever -- it doesn't change between the testaments -- but the nature of the clash of kingdoms certainly does. . . .

Today, we've been given a commission to send the gospel of grace into the whole world. . . . So we don't pronounce curses on our enemies, because our enemies aren't earthly kingdoms. But back then, they were. And that makes an angry psalm much more palatable.

So how do we use them in our worship?

Tiegreen goes on to say,

Instead of ignoring those difficult psalms that curse others, I encourage you to pray them with confidence. It wouldn't be wise (or godly) to direct them at specific people, groups, or nations; that's not what ambassadors of Jesus do in an age of global grace. But to hold in your mind the devastations inflicted on Satan's hordes over the centuries, and to feel -- and express in prayer -- this kind of anger toward them will put you in sync with your Savior in ways you may never have considered. Jesus has done violence with the kingdom of darkness -- just observe the trauma of the gospels, if you need a reminder -- and it's not a stretch to say a follower of Christ should follow him in this way.

If anger is something you never even considered using in your prayers, you really should give this book a try.

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I'm wondering if the author provides example of when "Jesus does violence with the kingdom of darkness." I'd be interested to read, study, and contemplate those passages. Anything you could pass along would be appreciated.

jason taylor

A related subject is the "millitaristic"* or warlike metaphors in sacred songs and poetry. I don't have anything against them as such. It is a three-thousand year old tradition and produces good hymns and fine rhetoric(one of my favorites is Mighty Fortress), and if they were often co-opted for political purposes, occasionally the political situation was so extreme as to make that appropriate. This style was until recently a part of the Western tradition and Churchill could use it quite well at times.
However it does give offense to outsiders and we are told not to give unnecessary offense. On the other hand statistics show that religions with a bit of sternness in their presentation attract followers better. Some interesting thoughts.

*I really don't like the word "millitaristic" it is vague, works by negative connotation rather then definitition, and as often as not is really an expression of the speaker's prejudice against an entire occupation. I prefer warlike which can have good, bad or ambiguous conotation depending on the context(that is the Third Reich was "millitaristic", Sikhs are "warlike" and Libyans are just "quarrelsome."

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