Thursday, 3 March 2022

Theology and the Psalms - preliminaries

 Dr. D in his first statements on preliminaries asks first what is our standpoint — and he underlines three possibilities:

  • the standpoint of the poet, 
  • or the standpoint of the Old Testament church, 
  • or the standpoint of the church of the present dispensation
This will take some digging since these are not how I see my standpoint today. Dispensation is a term I leave to one side. The assemblies of the emerging faith of Torah and Psalms I do not characterize as 'church'. There must be a standpoint of the poet. That is where I began. I don't expect it encompasses the totality of either Torah or Psalms.

But I must also stand in my own time, past the era of the imposition of salvation (as if that were even possible!) and into the cacophony of bullying such as is seen in China's century of humiliation —following the opium wars, Russia's pride and fear —following the second world war, Ukraine's terror today, the inability of Canada (temporarily we hope) to manage false claims of freedom and the American right's inability to count, to trust, to be civil, and the overall failure to manage "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report;". 

The notion of what is 'Christian' is so torn from its roots that it is almost completely dead for lack of suitable nutrients and water. The problem has been from the beginning of course, but I cannot put to one side the Shoah, nor the facts of climate change and the human capacity for self-destruction through nuclear annihilation. We have become so good through our sin at destroying each other. There is not one that doeth good, as the poet says.

A few 'facts' that trouble me and 'theories' that encourage me:

'Facts' - the blockaders in Canada did not and do not speak for most of us in this country. A blockade that exposes its own stupidity and makes itself obnoxious is not speaking to any notion of freedom that can be acceptable. If indeed they die for their sins, well let that be an end of them. Sin has no resurrection. Vindication requires angels beholding the face of God, and the childishness of these mockers does not qualify. Those who support them are equally obnoxious. I am sure they include many who think that the US election was stolen. The end of this lie has yet to be seen. The Canadian government's response was overly reasonable. These people could not see the will of God for our freedom but they should be able to see the will of the people they have damaged. Let them live then and pay their dues for the consequences of their actions. Ignorance masking itself as faith, and bluster masking itself as hope, stand against love, the greatest of these three gifts. The obnoxious do not will the good of others.

Encouraging 'theories' - we live in a time of immensely productive science. There are some doing good for the environment, some for the fauna and flora of the world, and some for the knowledge of the beginnings and endings of the cosmos, the dark matter that helped the visible form into stars and galaxies, that shapes the gravity of our situation cosmically and caused light to shine in the universe. If we as a species want to continue, we must incorporate a full science into our faith. 

I am also encouraged by faithful scholarship applied to the source of our ability to read, write, and think across the centuries. It is not a bad thing to pay attention to this emergence of knowledge, physical and spiritual. We still know 'in part'. We are all still bound by our assumptions. 

I wrote the above before the current war. What consequences are there for power and lies, evil and wickedness in this world? These will be determined, but putting aside the mad actions of a deranged and self-deluded man attempting to mislead everyone with his lies, if we all survive another 10 years, I hope we will see the international criminal court bring Putin to justice for war crimes. Anyone who praised him is as sick as he is. 

The psalms end in praise because Yahweh relieves the afflicted. He humbles the wicked to earth. And the job is given to those who know mercy: to bind this sovereign in chains, and this self-glorifying one with iron fetters. 

The oppressed of the earth know this is true and are showing their support for the one who has been attacked. We don't need correct theology to figure this out. 

It turns out that when I read the preliminaries, as Delitzsch calls this section, they raise so many questions about his thinking that I feel I am in an episode of Vienna Blood. So I will leave any further immediate comment. Dr D's theological summary is as would be expected, thorough, well-informed, and coherent for him. [He only uses the punish word twice in the theological preliminaries]. 

He does have a section that justifies wrath in the face of such injustice as we see today not only from Putin and his cronies, but from all the rich whose wealth is extracted from the people to their detriment and to the detriment of their earthly homes, "vine and fig tree" as given to them.

But as to the so-called imprecatory psalms, in the position occupied by the Christian and by the church towards the enemies of Christ, the desire for their removal is certainly outweighed by the desire for their conversion: but assuming, that they will not be converted and will not anticipate their punishment by penitence, the transition from a feeling of love to that of wrath is warranted in the New Testament (e. g. Gal. v. 12), and assuming their absolute Satanic hardness of heart the Christian even may not shrink from praying for their final overthrow. For the kingdom of God comes not only by the way of mercy but also of judgment; and the coming of the kingdom of God is the goal of the Old as well as of the New Testament saint (vid. ix. 21, lix. 14 and other passages), and every wish that judgment may descend upon those who oppose the coming of the kingdom of God is cherished even in the Psalms on the assumption of their lasting impenitence (vid. vii. 13 sq. cix. 17).

[I doubt that the Gal. 5:12 proof text is apt, Dr. D. It is a fit of pique from Paul. We don't need proof texts for this kind of judgment at this stage of human learning - though it remains to be seen if we have maturing within our current international consensus against the aggression of Russia - Gog or no Gog.]

As for what the OT and NT distinguish - here Dr. D and I are going to diverge. While I see the fullness of the Firstborn, I do not doubt that 'life after death' in an everlasting linearity is a misunderstanding of the eternal. We are still exploring the extremes of our knowledge of the heavens and the earth and there is no final theory that could have been expressed pre-science any more than the Patristic authors who had no Hebrew could effectively do grammar with Dr. D. As I quoted him in an earlier post, there is still more to come.

I will leave you dear reader to chose for yourself whether to read the whole epub section for this beginning. I want now to see more into what Delitzsch writes for a psalm. I may start with Psalms 1 - but may or may not proceed in sequence. In any case this is a long process, up to two years if I do the whole Psalter. And I have to intersperse it with other things, like music and grandchildren, and so on.

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