Friday, December 22, 2006
Praying the Psalms

From Pastor Dietrich, in his Life Together published in 1954:

How can God's Word be at the same time prayer to God?

This question brings with it an observation that is made by everybody who begins to use the psalms as prayers. First he tries to repeat the psalms personally as his own prayer. But soon he comes upon passages that he feels he cannot utter as his own personal petitions. We recall, for example, the psalms of innocence, the bitter, the imprecatory psalms, and also in part the psalms of the Passion. And yet these prayers are words of Holy Scripture which a believing Christian cannot simply dismiss as outworn and obsolete, as "early stages of religion." One may have no desire to carp at the Word of the Scriptures and yet he knows that he cannot pray these words. He can read and hear them as the prayer of another person, wonder about them, be offended by them, but he can neither pray them himself nor discard them from the Bible.

The practical expedient would be to say that any person in this situation should first stick to the psalms he can understand and repeat, and that in the case of the other psalms he should learn quite simply to let stand what is incomprehensible and difficult and turn back again and again to what is simple and understandable. Actually, however, this difficulty indicates the point at which we get our first glimpse of the secret of the Psalter. A psalm that we cannot utter as a prayer, that makes us falter and horrifies us, is a hint to us that here Someone else is praying, not we; that the One who is here protesting his innocence, who is invoking God's jugment, who has come to such infinite depths of suffering, is none other than Jesus Christ himself. He it is who is praying here, and not only here but in the whole Psalter.

Not too shabby for a Lutheran pastor.

posted by Peter at 8:14 PM
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