Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Human Need for Divine Justice

In Gordon Wenham's fantastic book The Psalter Reclaimed, he has a chapter where he discusses, at length, various approaches to understanding the impreccatory psalms. Because of the often harsh language of these psalms, which long for the punishment of the wicked, some say these psalms are sub-Christian. Some say that they express a perspective that is unenlightened by the gospel of grace inaugurated by the coming of Christ and that they are not for the church to pray any longer. Wenham turns favorably to the work of German scholar Erich Zenger in his book A God of Vengeance? where he discusses at length the importance of the impreccatory psalms, and in particular the way that they address the human need for God's coming divine justice. Wenham then then offers an extended illustration:

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[Gottfried] Bachl tells of an SS officer who commanded a squad who wiped out a whole village of some six hundred people in retaliation for the activities of the French resistance.  Later this officer settled in East Germany, where he became a much respected member of the community. When eventually in 1980 he was tried and condemned to life imprisonment, he agreed to an interview, during which he repeatedly broke down in tears.
When the reporter asked, "Why are you crying now?" he answered, "Because I have been so happy, and now it ends this way." The journalist continued, "Did you ever weep over the children, women, and men you killed that day?" "No," he said. "Did it never occur to you that you had done a terrible injustice to those people?" His answer: "No, not as long as I was free. Everything was quite normal. But now I often think that there must have been something wrong, that I was involved in it myself somehow, that probably the whole thing was wrong."
Bachl comments that it was judgment that made this man face up to his guilt. That woke him from his happy oblivion and self-satisfaction. It was judgment that prompted him to respond as a human being who recognized what he had done. Bachl continues:
 The current of our history does not issue in justice, but in the question: Where will it happen? Will it ever appear in its true, comprehensive form. No court...will be adequate to the things that people...are doing to one another...What happens in the world of humanity is from its very beginning a cry for God's judgment. And the first response to that cry that is found in the gospel, the good news is:
The stream of events will not run on forever, over blood and victims, goodness, evil, innocence and justice. God will put an end to the course of history and will make clear that there is a difference between justice and injustice, and that this difference must be demonstrated. God will seek out the buried victims, the forgotten, starved children, the dishonoured women, and God will find the hidden doers of these deeds. God will gather them all before God's eternal, holy will for the good, so that all must see how it stands with their lives.
Wenham, Gordon J. The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. 139-140
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Wenham, echoing the work of Zenger, concludes: "These psalms can serve to wake us from our structural amnesia about God...They awaken our consciences to the anguish of those who suffer. They serve to wake us from the dreadful passivity that has overtaken the comfortable churches of the Western world. They make us long for the coming of the kingdom in justice and power."

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