Psalm 109 confronts the reader with rage, with revenge, with pain and hatred. This presents a problem. Surely biblical poetry should be more sophisticated and gentle than Psalm 109, so there must be some sort of misunderstanding or mistake, right?
There are several ways of dealing with the problem of outright rage in this psalm. One is to take the "curse" section of psalm 109, verses 6 through 20, and ascribe them to a different voice than the rest of the verses. By introducing a second character, one can say that the curse section is spoken by the one who is doing evil to the speaker of the rest of the psalm. This is plausible since it is characteristic of psalms to change voices often and without warning or explanation. However, this method also creates problems of its own. The curse section lists several evil doings of the person to whom the curses are directed, yet we are led to believe by the rest of the psalm that the speaker is an honest, righteous man. It is therefore unlikely that such things would be said about him. Secondly, the curse section ends with an appeal to God, asking that the aforementioned list of curses should be sent upon those who "speak evil against" the speaker. It is likewise unlikely that an evildoer would be addressing God in this way. So several inconsistencies become evident when trying to explain the curses by voicing them from the enemy's point of view.
A second way of dealing with the curse section is to explain away the severity of the words. One could say that the psalmist is merely venting anger. He would never actually wish an enemy's children to be orphans and beggars unless he was still caught in the heat and anger of the moment. Or one could say that the psalmist is praying these curses knowing that God would never actually deliver something so evil on his behalf. Explanations such as these serve to comfort the reader. Surely it is easier to deal with a psalm that doesn't truly mean these awful things. Certainly it is inappropriate to pray these things.
Personally, I find fault with diluting a psalm until it is easy to swallow. It is true that this psalm contains the very worst one could ever wish on another human being. This psalm was written to be forceful and perhaps shocking. Did the psalmist actually mean to ask this horrible revenge from God? The evidence is in the language of the psalm. These curses are not clothed in metaphor. They are direct, saying "may his days be few," (verse 8) and "may none pity his orphans." (verse 12) These are not wishy-washy ideas, and the psalmist asks God directly to "thus repay my accusers." (verse 20) There is no denying what the psalm actually says. Any type of dilution of the meaning serves to weaken the psalm, and what is the purpose of reading a psalm after you have weakened it? Why not read something else?
The Hebrew Bible is not a "nice" book. It was not written to be comforting and sweet. There are many stories that would be far too violent or explicit to read to a child at bedtime. The fact remains that Psalm 109 was chosen, perhaps out of thousands of others, to be included in the one-hundred-fifty that appear in the scriptures. Like all psalms it is meant to be said in the presence of God. Is this theologically dangerous ground? Of course. But theology is not an easy matter. What is the use of a Bible that does not help us deal with base rage? If the Bible does not span the entire breadth of human feeling, than it will become useless to us in the most important of times. By weakening this psalm, one only serves to weaken human emotion.
"I rarely saw him. He always seemed to be going somewhere. We always said 'hi' and that was about it."
There will be a memorial service in Robin's memory on Friday in Cannon Chapel.
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