Human Dignity and Psalm 34


I am currently working on a book on the Psalms and their uses in the NT. The Psalms can certainly prompt some deep reflection, and one such psalm is Ps. 34, which reads as follows—-

1 I will extol the LORD at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.
8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
9 Fear the LORD, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
11 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12 Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their cry;
16 but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.
17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
19 The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the LORD delivers him from them all;
20 he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.
21 Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
22 The LORD will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.
(NIV— Used by permission)

E. Charry in her commentary on the Psalms has some helpful reflections at this point. She points out that Jesus’ suffering did not shame him nor did it morally degrade him. It degraded his tormentors. Suffering in itself is not shameful, indeed it may even be a badge of righteousness in a fallen and wicked world full of abuse and violence. So despite the fact that many ancients saw crucifixion as the most shameful way to die, in the divine calculus and in the case of Jesus, this was not so. “Shame accrues to the perpetrators of violence, not to its victims… a victim can be physically injured but not morally harmed.” This is in part because while we cannot control all our circumstances to prevent all suffering, “moral dignity is something over which one has control, and Ps. 34 calls us to guard it well. No one can take it away or damage it; only we can do that.” This is a good and helpful word in the light of all the violence that has happened to people this sizzling summer in America. Charry’s remarks reminded me of one of my favorite songs by Bob Dylan— ‘Dignity’. Here’s the man himself one of our greatest poets….

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