Whether the Psalm is spoken or sung or whispered behind closed doors, there is no softening that last line, with its vicious dreams of vengeance. We might be tempted to ask what it’s doing in our Bible, or at least in our lectionary; language like this with its life-for-a-life ethic, its yearning for atrocity. But here’s the thing: if we were to hide our history of bitterness and anger, of envy and regret; if we were to cleanse our collective spiritual autobiography of oppression and violent revolt, we would be tempted to deny that such emotions, such actions could ever take hold of us again. Whereas we see in Syria children gassed to pay back their parents for their disobedience and dissidence; we see in our cities gang violence: a life for a life, an atrocity for an atrocity; we see in the online comments section of the local papers vitriol and vindictive language, cruel intent. We are not immune to the despair that afflicted the Judeans carried off by the Chaldeans, weeping by the rivers of Babylon; and we are not immune to poisonous and paralysing anger.
So what are we to do? If human nature is so fatally flawed by the Fall, how are we to hope for a better future?
“Lord, increase our faith.”
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A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing, by Rosalind C Hughes, is available from Upper Room Books.https://bookstore.upperroom.org/Products/1921/a-family-like-mine.aspx