Again we read psalms of pleading for justice – or at least for personal vindication. The psalmist is confident in God’s justice, and it looks from 57:5-10 as though this confidence is based on the experience of God’s help in the past. Time and again in the Psalms we have seen the value of remembering the past in giving us confidence to face the future.
I’m less comfortable with Psalms 58 & 59, which go beyond prayer for protection and justice to seeking vengeance, wishing suffering and humiliation on the writer’s enemies. I don’t like it, but there is something powerful about the fact that the Psalms again show us that all human life can be the ground for prayer, and that our prayers are richer when they are absolutely honest and open.
The Bible I’m using provides a non – scriptural reading for each day as well as the Bible texts, and I usually try not to let these shape my thoughts or blog too much. But today’s is a passage from Bonhoeffer, from A Testament to Freedom, which has struck me so powerfully that I’m going to copy it here.
Jesus Christ died the death of the ungodly, struck down by God’s wrath and vengeance. His blood is the blood God’s justice demanded for the transgression of God’s commandments. God’s vengeance has been carried out right here on earth, more terribly than the psalmist himself knows. Christ, the innocent one, died the death of a sinner so that we do not have to die.
Now we stand as sinners at the foot of his cross and now a puzzle difficult to understand is solved: Jesus Christ, the innocent one, prays as God’s vengeance on the godless is fulfilled, he prays as [Psalm 58] is fulfilled: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”[Luke 23: 34]. The one who bore the vengeance, he alone was allowed to ask for the forgiveness of the godless. He alone has set us free from God’s wrath and revenge; he has brought forgiveness to his enemies and no one before him was allowed to pray like that. He alone is allowed to.
If we look at him, the crucified one, we recognize God’s true and living anger at us godless and the same moment, our liberation from this anger, and we hear, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”. . . God’s vengeance has died and the blood of the godless one in whom we bathe ourselves gives us a share in God’s victory; the blood of the godless one has become our redemption, it cleanses us of all our sin. That is the miracle. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom