Wednesday, February 22, 2012

PSALM 137 AND THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE

     In my experience of working with many denominations of churches, I have encountered various views on the inspiration of Scripture. I personally have very few prerequisites for setting up pastor training classes in churches, but one that I do have is that the church with whom I am working shares my view of the absolute inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures.
     I will not go into all of my reasons for taking this view since it is a very long subject, but I will say that it did not come to me without thought and investigation. Some people say that they believe that the Scripture contains the word of God, but they will decline to say that it is entirely inspired. This small difference actually is of considerable consequence, since it puts the individual in the place of authority over the Scripture. The Scriptures themselves are instead relegated to a place of being subject to our own ideas and judgment of what is true. It is for this reason that I feel that it is important to work only with those who hold to a true inspired view of Scripture. If they did not, so much time would be spent merely on sitting in judgment of which parts of the Bible are inspired and which are not.
     It may be good also to have discussions and classes on the inspiration of Scripture, but that is for a different forum. The classes with which we have worked for many years are for training pastors and church leaders. We feel that at this stage, we want to be past the point of discussing the issue of the inspiration of Scripture so that we can move on to deeper things. I do not intend this short essay to be a complete dissertation on the inspiration of Scripture, but only mean to point out a single aspect of it. In all, it is a very broad subject.

     I will concede that there are places in the Bible that are extremely difficult and even impossible to understand, and also places that seem contrary to what we would naturally say is correct. Many of these have been pointed out to me in the course of the last several years, and here in the Pacific regions, one of the passages of Scripture that has been shown to me a few times as a reason to believe that there are some portions of the Bible that cannot be inspired by God is that of Psalm 137.
     This actually is a Psalm that I have related to in the past, especially the first part. It is written from the perspective of the Israelites during the time of their exile and Babylonian captivity when they were away from their homeland. I did not relate to it because I was ever in captivity, but as I have lived in other lands, I have sometimes lamented my separation from our home and little farm in Wisconsin. The Psalm begins:

     By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
     Upon the willows in the midst of it we hung our harps.
     For there our captors demanded of us songs, and our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
     How can we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:1-4 NAS)

     In the experience of these exiles, they felt extremely homesick when they remembered their homeland. Their captors wanted them to sing some of their joyful Israeli songs to them, but because of the sadness that the Jews felt, they could not sing. This is not the part of the Psalm that is controversial. Rather, it is what these Jewish captives said at the end of the Psalm:

     Remember, O LORD, against the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who said, “Raze it, raze it, to its very foundation.”
     O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, how blessed will be the one who repays you with the recompense with which you have repaid us.
     How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.
     (Ps 137:7-9 NAS)

     This last verse is especially shocking and is particularly difficult for us to understand or accept. In fact, this is the verse that has been quoted to me as an example of the impossibility that this could be the inspired word of God. “Surely this could not be something that God would say,” I have been told.
     In point of fact, what they say is correct, but their conclusion is faulty. If we read this Psalm carefully, we see that these are not the words of God. Some people, when they read the word “blessed,” assume that this must be something from God. After all, Jesus used the word blessed a lot. He used it when He spoke the beatitudes, didn’t He? This last verse is worded much like a beatitude of the dark side.
     But these are words spoken by exiles in captivity and in deep distress. Just because they spoke them, it does not mean that God condones this attitude of vengeance. As a matter of fact, the Scripture instructs us not to take our own revenge. This is not to say that those who have done evil can expect to get away with it, for in the final days of this age all will be put right. But this is in God’s hands, not ours. (Romans 12:9).

     One thing that I appreciate about the historical record of the Bible is that it does not try to make the characters seem more righteous than they actually were. Even in the case of King David, who is called “a man after God’s own heart,” the record is very honest in dealing with his failures and his sins. We do not usually see this in other religions. Normally, the faults and weaknesses of heroes of other faiths are ignored, and the ancestors of the faith are made to appear to be some sort of super righteous people. The Bible is more honest than this. It shows the true thoughts and deeds of the people of God, whether these things are righteous or not.
     I appreciate this because I see that these people had the same struggles that I have. I have never felt like striking anyone’s head against a rock, but I must admit to some dark thoughts of revenge for some injustice done to me. When we read about the people of God in the Bible, we know that they also struggled with dark thoughts. It helps us to see that our problems are common to man, and that we all are in need of God’s grace.
     There are several reasons that some individuals and churches do not accept the inerrant nature of the complete inspiration of the Scripture, but in my experience, one of the most common reasons is that people simply do not read the words carefully. In the case of Psalm 137, some assume that it is saying that this is a command or desire of God. It is not.

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