Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Imprecations, Supplications, and Bumper Stickers


Politically I describe myself as “a left-leaning independent.” I retain the right to be pissed off at both parties.

In the days of the George W. Bush presidency an angry right-winger, painting with a broad brush, addressed this accusation toward me: “You liberals just want to see President Bush fail.”

I was taken aback. After a moment’s thought, I denied the accusation.

“That’s not true,” I said. “I would like George Bush to be the best president this nation has ever elected. I would like to see him lead our country into a new era of peace and prosperity. I’m just skeptical that his policies will accomplish that.”

The current political climate in the United States is divisive, vituperative, and not given to compromise. I don’t blame a single party for this state of affairs. As I said, I reserve the right to be pissed off at both parties. All parties. There is corruption, stupidity, and stubbornness on both sides of the political divide. Nor am I an uncritical supporter of our current president. As was the case with his  predecessor in office, I would like to see Mr. Obama be the best president our nation has ever elected. And, as was the case with his predecessor, I’m skeptical that this will be the case.

Yesterday I saw a car in my hometown. In the driver’s side rear window was a handmade sign, a piece of white cardboard with ragged edges, it’s message written in black marker. “Psalm 109:8,” it said. Below that in smaller letters, “Pray for Obama.” This message showed up on bumper stickers during Mr. Obama’s first term.

Psalm 109 is one of the nastiest of the psalms of imprecation. Perhaps no single verse quite matches the angry violence  of Psalm 137: 9 “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rocks!” Nevertheless the hateful rhetoric of Psalm 109 is overwhelming as it piles curse upon curse.

May his children be orphans,
and his wife a widow.
May his children wander about and beg;
   may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit.
May the creditor seize all that he has;
   may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil.
May there be no one to do him a kindness,
   nor anyone to pity his orphaned children.
May his posterity be cut off;
   may his name be blotted out in the second generation.
May the iniquity of his father be remembered before the LORD,
   and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out.
Let them be before the LORD continually,
   and may his memory be cut off from the earth.
     (Psalm 109:9-15)
Still, the driver of that car had taken one verse from the context of Psalm 109. I doubt that she or he had any of the verses quoted above in mind. Taking Bible verses out of context is a common enough practice and can be great fun. The verse that the sign cited was this:

 Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
      (Psalm 109:8, KJV)

During Obama’s first term it was almost clever. In his second and constitutionally final term it’s just nasty.

I really don’t expect the tone of our political discourse to improve any time soon. I do, however, think that we all be better served if we had a little less Psalm 109 and a little more  2 Timothy 2:1-4

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 

Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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