In a recent article on the Sojourner’s blog, Diana Butler Bass responds to Psalm 109:8 in light of a recent bumper sticker campaign using the Psalm as a prayer about President Obama. Psalm 109:8 reads as follows:
May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.
She comments that it was probably intended to be a joke by some right-wingers, but, she says, it ceases to be funny when you read on in the passage. She then proceeds to quote C. S. Lewis’ thoughts on Psalm 109 especially. To quote her quote:
In some of the Psalms the spirit of hatred which strikes us in the face is like the heat from a furnace mouth. In others the same spirit ceases to be frightful only by becoming (to a modern mind) almost comic in its naivety. Examples can be found all over the Psalter, but perhaps the worst is in 109.
She tows the line with Lewis and suggests that we should use these Psalms to speak to ourselves about our own sinful nature. She even seems to suggest that we not read these Psalms at all in public worship.
While I respect Lewis, and I find Bass to be an interesting read, I think she, surprisingly, in this regard, is missing the most important thing about this Psalm: its honesty. While it is true that these sorts of things usually represent the feelings of an oppressed people, it is more significant to me that the Psalm is even there at all. If God didn’t want us to pray in this way, why would He have given us the example in the context of a book viewed by many as the Bible’s hymnal or prayer book? I believe that there is a very real sense in which this passage is an example of the kind of honesty and openness that God desires of His people.
David comes to God with all these feelings of hatred toward his critics. He wants them removed from office, their families disturbed, and their lives obliterated. And he takes these feelings to God. And in the process, he comes to the place where his anger abates and he simply asks God to bring salvation.
So, while I agree that this Psalm is an inappropriate joke against our president, I disagree that we should basically ignore prayers like this. They aren’t merely pictures of our own sinfulness, but examples of the kind of honesty God wants from us. They show us that nothing is hidden from God’s sight, so we might as well tell Him what’s on our minds, even if it’s messy and misguided or wrong.