Monday, December 22, 2014

Goldingay on the Imprecatory Psalms

John Goldingay with his wife Kathleen Scott Goldingay have published a two-part article called "The Sting in the Psalms" (Theology 117.6 [2014]: 403–10; 118.1 [2015]: 3–9). A pre-publication version of the two-part article is available at Kathleen Scott's page. I just read the published version of the second part, which is attributed mostly to John Goldingay (while Kathleen Scott Goldingay receives primary credit for part 1).

Part two is a good, brief theological reflection on the value of the imprecatory psalms. Goldingay asserts that our discomfort--and the discomfort of many biblical scholars--with the imprecatory psalms arises primarily from the fact that we feel ourselves to be the oppressors and not the oppressed, and so we don't want God to take vengeance on the oppressors. He cautions (with tongue in cheek):
Scholars in countries such as Britain and the United States are therefore wise to support the view of ordinary Christians that nobody should use such psalms. It would be dangerous if people prayed them. God might listen and respond. (p. 6)
I also appreciated Goldingay's concerns with the allegorical interpretation of these psalms, and the two examples he takes of this interpretive strategy, C. S. Lewis and David Steinmetz. Goldingay says about C. S. Lewis' chapter on the imprecatory psalms in Reflections on the Psalms
Lewis here illustrates several of the dangers in allegorical interpretation. Its problem is usually not that it leads us to make declarations that are out of keeping with the direct teaching of Scripture. It is that it enables us to avoid seeing what the Holy Spirit was inspiring in particular texts. It enables us to focus instead on things that we are more interested in or that we are more comfortable with, which will often be matters of individual spirituality rather than our outward lives. It enables us to avoid seeing what God wants us to see. (p. 7)
This is a good criticism of some examples of allegorical interpretation, and I'll need to think more about it.

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