Saturday, April 28, 2007

Bonhoeffer on the Psalms, part III: the Enemies

I still vividly recall the time I began to learn Jesus' command to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." I was fifteen, and my brother Jordan thirteen. We were riding our bikes on the "wrong side of the river" in Saginaw, and Jordan was pushed off his bike and strangled by two teens. His bike ended up getting stolen. The bruising on his throat was hideous--and what can one say about any emotional scars the event left until this day? And yet my mother, aside from giving me one hell of a stern scolding for letting it happen, taught me a much stronger lesson: "Drew, we must pray for these boys. They obviously have neither a loving home nor nice bikes. Their lives cannot be right, or else they wouldn't have done such a thing." What? I thought.

Having our friends and brothers in Christ Necati, Uğur, and Tilmann coldly tortured and slaughtered last week in Malatya, forgiving our enemies becomes the challenge directly in our faces. How can their wives, children, fiancee, and family of these men forgive and live outside of fear? How can we as the church in Turkey, all eyes upon us, point in all things to the living hope into which we've been born (1 Peter 1:3)? Again I find it instructive to turn to the words of pastor Bonhoeffer, a man who knew not only the great evils of the National Socialist (Nazi) regime, but eventually was hanged by them as an enemy of the state.

No section of the Psalter causes us greater difficulty today than the so-called imprecatory psalms. . . . Every attempt to pray these psalms seems doomed to failure. They seem to be an example of what people think of as the religious first stage toward the New Testament. Christ on the cross prays for his enemies and teaches us to do the same. How can we still, with these Psalms, call for the wrath of God against our enemies? . . .

The enemies referred to here are the enemies of the cause of God. It is therefore nowhere a matter of personal conflict. Nowhere does the one who prays these psalms want to take revenge into his own hands. He calls for the wrath of God alone (cf. Romans 12:19). Therefore he must dismiss from his own mind all thought of personal revenge; he must be free from his own thirst for revenge. Otherwise, the vengeance would not be seriously commanded from [that is, prayed for from] God. . . .

God's vengeance did not strike the sinners, but the one sinless man who stood in the sinners' place, namely God's own Son. Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God, for the execution of which the psalm prays. He stilled God's wrath toward sin and prayed in the hour of the execution of the divine judgment: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do!" No other than he, who himself bore the wrath of God, could pray in this way. That was the end of all phony thoughts about the love of God which do not take sin seriously. God hates and redirects his enemies to the only righteous one, and this one asks forgiveness for them. Only in the cross of Jesus Christ is the love of God to be found.

Thus the imprecatory psalm leads to the cross of Jesus and to the love of God which forgives enemies. I cannot forgive the enemies of God out of my own resources. Only the crucified Christ can do that, and I through him. Thus the carrying out of vengeance becomes grace for all men in Jesus Christ. . . .

Even today I can believe the love of God and forgive my enemies only by going back to the cross of Christ, to the carrying out of the wrath of God. The cross of Jesus is valid for all men. Whoever opposes him, whoever corrupts the word of the cross of Jesus on which God's wrath must be executed, must bear the curse of God some time or another. . . .*

It is in the knowledge that God's judgment is faithful and just that we can pray for his avenging of our enemies' sin. For their evils will either be mercifully transferred upon the sacrificial Lamb of God and punished there in him upon Golgotha, or they will be brought to nothing in the eternal torments of the hereafter. But it is in light of the former that we must pray, for God does not wish "for any to perish but all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9)--and as recipients of his undeserved favor must likewise have the same desire. Perhaps it was also in this light that the wives of both Necati and Tilmann chose to forgive their husbands' murderers. I am especially proud of Necati's wife Şemsa, who declared that she is staying put in Malatya. After all, her daughter recently planted some flowers there, and she wishes to stay to see them grow--bringing the life and beauty of God's grace with them.
*Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1970), pp. 56-60.

1 comment:

HALFMOM said...

Thank you for sharing all this - I have been away and not much news of this tragedy has reached throught the gates of science - it is amazing what God's grace has allowed them to live through and forgive - a lesson for us all, especially me