Christianity 201

June 1, 2021

God’s Wrath in the Penitential Psalms

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

A year ago, in a debut that ran for two days, we introduced you to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting whose “blog’s central aim is to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.” When we returned for a visit, Mark had wrapped up a series of different features of the Psalms in alphabetical order, hence the name of today’s article, below.

As he points out, the wrath of God has become the object of more debate recently whenever salvation or atonement is discussed. Did God pour out his wrath on Jesus or did he pour out his wrath on sin? Or is He a loving God who would never do anything wrathful to anyone? Perhaps you’ve found yourself in one of those discussions. In character with the rest of his writing, Mark looks at the Old Testament and in particular what the Psalms say about the wrath of God.

W is for Wrath

The subject of God’s wrath is a challenging one at a number of levels. It connects with how we understand the atonement and the relationship between the two testaments to name just two. A starting point for any theological reflection and understanding of God’s wrath recognises that the Bible—in both testaments—speaks of God’s wrath, or anger, towards sin.

Two of the areas of the Bible where this theme is to the fore are Paul’s Letter to the Romans and the Book of Psalms. It is likely that whoever created the grouping of Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143 as the penitential psalms was very aware of this. The evidence of this is that these seven psalms each mention God’s wrath and/or feature in Paul’s discussion of the problem of sin in Romans, see Nasuti (1999).

Before we get to Psalm 51, we will present the explicit mentions of wrath in the other six penitential psalms. Psalm 6 and Psalm 38 both open in the same way, with this very concern:

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Psalm 6:1, NRSV

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
Psalm 38:1, NRSV

Psalm 102 speaks of God’s anger too:

For I eat ashes like bread,
and mingle tears with my drink,
because of your indignation and anger;
for you have lifted me up and thrown me aside.
Psalm 102:9–10, NRSV

Other verses in the penitential psalms speak of God’s action against the psalmist which we might read as a consequence of anger:

For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up[a] as by the heat of summer
Selah
Psalm 32:4, NRSV

Psalm 51 makes no direct mention of God’s anger or wrath, although if we read this psalm with a penitential lens, we can understand this lying behind the judgement that the psalmist seeks to avoid. Whether we read it with this lens, or in isolation, we see an expectation, a hope, even a celebration, that God’s mercy will eclipse God’s judgment. Psalm 51 challenges any argument that suggests a bipolar distinction between a wrathful God of the Old Testament and a Loving God of the New. Psalm 51 breaks any such simplistic notions. It points to the need of an understanding of God that resists such false dichotomies. This is not the time or place to explore the atonement or the relationship between the testaments in depth. We can, however, be grateful that both testaments testify to the truth of Psalm 51:

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:17, NRSV

 

Reference
Harry P. Nasuti, Defining the Sacred Songs: Genre, Tradition, and the Post-Critical Interpretation of the Psalms, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999, p.33.


While not directly related to today’s devotional, while looking for something else I found this song, which was new to me. It takes 5½ minutes and the lyrics are on-screen. Sit back and enjoy.

 

1 Comment »

  1. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” I’m counting on it!

    Comment by michelemariepoetry.com — June 1, 2021 @ 10:54 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: