Why the Psalms Matter – Even the Violent Ones

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of listening to N.T. Wright speak about the Psalms at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. One of his recent books, The Case for the Psalms: Why they are Essential, served as the catalyst for this conversational presentation. First, a favorite phrase from the evening: the Psalms help us to “inhabit the great unceasing liturgy” (p. 6).

He, in standard Wrightian style, spoke of the Psalms as signposts of New Creation. In order to do this, the book (and presentation) is broken up into three basic sections which include: Time, Space, and Matter.

Time: linear in biblical thought yet dynamic and complex. The past is brought into the present pointing us toward a future. Think here of Passover/Exodus and connect the dots forward to a sacramental theology that involves the present, past, and future simultaneously (inaugurated eschatology). In the presentation, Psalm 89 was discussed.

Space: this part of the discussion centered around several ideas, but specifically the overlap between sacred space and human space – the overlap/interlocking of heaven and earth. Wright gave the background of Hebraic thought around Creation –> Tabernacle –> Temple –> Jesus (in the Spirit through the Church)… these are the places where heaven and earth were/are strangely close together. In the presentation, Psalm 139 was discussed.

Matter: here the discussion moved into the goodness of Creation and the theme of “glory.” Glory has to do with human’s imaging God to the world of matter. God’s glory, then, is first of all God’s own presence and power that is then shared with God’s people as they reflect God to Creation. In the presentation, Psalm 72, 96, 98, and others.

Violence and the Psalms?

I really appreciated this presentation and the Q&A that followed. In fact, I had the opportunity to ask N.T. Wright a question regarding the ways in which Psalms shape our imagination. My question invited him to reflect on if we ought to recite the violent texts in the Psalms, such as the idea of dashing babies heads against rocks. As an Anabaptist, you can imagine where my question came from. I would love to hear your thoughts on Wright’s response. I asked him at abut 1hr 7mins on the recording.

Here’s the MP3 (right-click and download) that the Seattle School so generously provided online.

N.T. Wright – The Case for the Psalms

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  • Ken Steckert

    I agree with his point about being honest with God. People, including followers of Jesus, respond to the realities of life differently, and bringing all of our being before God and others honestly I believe is healthy for a relationship. Though I have personally never had the feelings of the vindictive psalmists, but I do not think that makes me more like Jesus. It could be understood that the psalmists were trusting God to judge, and that seems quite like Jesus.

  • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

    Psalm 137:9, with its violent imagery of smashing the heads of political enemies’ children, is no different that MCC’s psalm*, with it’s violent imagery of slaughtering, by one shot to the forehead, Mennonite’s political enemies.
    ________________________
    * “…one shot…to the forehead…” ~MCC, David and Goliath (Part V)


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