Monday, April 28, 2008

Psalm 7 (Plus some musings on God's violence and the Christian metanarrative)

Psalm 7 continues the theme of some of the previous psalms. It is a prayer to the Lord for deliverance from one's enemies.

I love the imagery in this psalm, especially verse 14--"He who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment" (NIV). The psalmist portrays his enemies as lions and the Lord as a mighty warrior. It's great imagery throughout. (On a side note, this is a great "God is not your girlfriend" psalm. How many contemporary Christian songs portray God as sharpening His sword and stringing His bow intending to destroy the wicked?)

I am reading two great books right now--Systematic Theology (vol 1) by Wolfhart Pannenberg and Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren. It's interesting to me to reflect on the ideas of these books when combined with the language of this psalm.

McLaren's book is great--the best book by him by far. It's a serious call to reevaluate the way in which we look at the world. I love his conclusions, although his one-sided portrayal of Jesus and the Gospel kind of irritates me. The risk in doing historical Jesus studies is that when you are finished, the "historical" Jesus usually looks a lot like the historian. Such is the case with McLaren's Jesus. He is the Jesus of the disenchanted boomer American evangelical intellectual--kind of a John Lennon, Ghandi, and MLK, Jr., and Al Gore all rolled into one. While I appreciate McLaren's call to re-examine the Gospel, and I love some of the changes he would like to see in American evangelicalism, I wonder how McLaren reads psalms like Psalm 7.

There is a lot of violence in the Bible. There are real bad people, and real good people, and God doesn't take too kindly to the bad people.

Also, Pannenberg's Systematic Theology is OUTSTANDING. It may be the toughest book I have ever read, but it is also one of the best. Pannenberg wrestles with the question of whether the "truthfulness" of Systematic theology should be a goal of the discipline, or whether the discussion is simply an in-house dialogue among the already convinced. If systematic theology seeks to prove the truthfulness of its assertions, by what means can it do so? (Pannenberg argues from a postmodern context in which the authority of the church, Scriptures, and natural theology have all been lost.) Pannenberg says that the truthfulness of religious claims are demonstrated historically as the proposed deity does what he/she claims it can do. I am only 240 pages into the book, but I am pretty sure that Pannenberg is going to say that the truthfulness of Yahweh's rule will be demonstrated in the eschaton when He does everything that He says He would do.

So Pannenberg would read Psalm 7 by saying that God sharpens His sword to slay the wicked in order to prove that He is indeed the righteous judge He claims to be.

McLaren talks a lot about "framing stories," which I call metanarratives. This is what I think the metanarrative of Christianity looks like now:

God is the God of Psalm 7. He is holy and righteous. He rewards the righteous and He condemns the wicked. In the Old Testament, God did a lot of "mighty deeds" to prove His reign. He blessed Israel, He preserved the Davidic dynasty, He rewarded the righteous and punished the wicked. Then came the Babylonian captivity, and the story changed. No longer could it be said that God rewarded the righteous and punished the wicked, because history demonstrates that sometimes the wicked win. So, eschatology was introduced into the equation. Although it looks like the wicked win, death is not the end of the story. God will resurrect the just and the unjust, and at that resurrection He will vindicate, or "justify" the righteous, and condemn the wicked. This is the metanarrative into which Jesus entered, only he changed the rules again. He redefined the elect people who will be justified from "those who are a part of Israel as demonstrated by circumcision and obedience to the law" to "those who are a part of the new Israel as demonstrated by faith in (i.e. allegiance to) Jesus." Also, he introduced the reign of God as an "already" reality by the presence of His Spirit.

So, when I read Psalm 7, I learn more about God than I do about life. God is certainly the God who rewards the righteous and condemns the wicked, but I might not see that justice this side of the eschaton.

"Father, it seems that every day I learn something different about your character. I thank you for the many voices of our age, and for the Scriptures that we have inherited from the ancients. I pray that as I study concepts like "righteousness" and "justice" that I would not get caught so much in theology that lose sight of being righteous and just. I pray that I would become a part of the global solution and not so much a part of the global problem. Give us wisdom in America. We need to change. Amen."

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