Prayer, Vengeance and Psalm 58

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Monday, August 14, 2017

Psa 58-1, words

Prayer, Vengeance and Psalm 58

This sermon by Dietrich Bonhoeffer was written in 1937, just as the Gestapo were “tightening the net” around those ministers and seminary professors who protested against the Nazi regime in Germany. More than 800 of these members of the Confessing Church had been either imprisoned or taken under house arrest—for the “crime” of protesting against the regime. One example: a former seminarian at the secret seminary of Finkenwalde was arrested, and had “Evangelical Pastor” as his “crime,” written above the door of his cell.

The seminary at Finkenwalde was forcibly closed by the Gestapo in September 1937. Bonhoeffer wrote this sermon in response. (It was two more years before he actively joined the underground Resistance movement.) [1]

Sadly, how timely that this reading should be set for this time, next in the book. Given the horrors that happened this past weekend in the city of Charlottesville, Virginia with white supremacists and neo-Nazis openly marching and carrying swastikas and Nazi flags…

Bonhoeffer opens his sermon with a complete reading of Psalm 58, and then asks: “Is this fearful psalm of vengeance to be our prayer? May we pray in this way? Certainly not!” [2] No, Herr Pastor Bonhoeffer decries the sin that inhabits all of us. Our personal sin, “our spiritual indolence, our open or hidden disobedience.” [3]

Just as a good Lutheran pastor ought, Bonhoeffer reminds us of our personal guilt, and where each of us falls short. He follows this declaration with the crystal-clear fact that none of us is guilt-free, and none of us is truly able to pray this psalm. (As much as we may want to.)

True, we may desperately want to pray this imprecatory psalm, and especially those who were directly impacted by the horrific events in Virginia. Yet, Bonhoeffer says “No, we cannot pray this psalm. Not because we are too good for it (what a superficial idea, what colossal pride!), but because we are too sinful, too evil for it!” [4]

Dear Lord, deliver me—deliver us from the great sin of colossal pride. Reveal all the ways in which I have fallen short, and help me to amend my ways. Turn my thoughts to You, and lead me in the way everlasting. Lord, in Your mercy, hear all of our prayers.

[1] Meditating on the Word, Dietrich Bonhöffer, edited by David McI. Gracie. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 2000), 73-74.

[2] Ibid, 75.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. 76.

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