Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Psalm 6/2 - God's anger and rebuke

Yesterday I provided a an introduction to Psalm 6 by way of a little context setting. 

But to understand the psalms, as well as having a sense of the overall shape of each psalm and its context, you really have to work through them verse by verse, line by line.   So for each of the penitential psalms I'm just going to pick out just a couple of particularly important verses and look at them in the context of Lent.   I'm going to start from the Latin Vulgate, but don't panic if you don't know any Latin, you don't need to.

So today I want to look at the opening verse of Psalm 6, which is actually exactly the same as that of the third penitential psalm, Psalm 37.

The Vulgate (and neo-Vulgate) is:

"Dómine, ne in furóre tuo árguas me, * neque in ira tua corrípias me."

God's anger?

A reasonably literal translation of the verse is: "Lord, do not rebuke me in your indignation: nor chastise me in your anger."

The first couple of words I want to focus on are furore, which comes from  furor, furoris means rage, wrath, fury, or indignation; and ira which means anger.

We tend to shy away today from the idea of an angry God, despite the frequent references to God's anger in the Old Testament (the picture below is of Cain escaping before God's anger, Flanders tapestry at Wawel Royal Castle, Arkady, 1975), and of course Our Lord's famous anger when he cleansed the Temple.  Indeed, the Latin here is actually rather softer than the Hebrew.

And it is true of course that the psalm here anthropomorphizes, since God does not literally react emotionally, with anger or other emotions, as he is unchangeable. St Augustine comments:

“Yet this emotion must not be attributed to God. Disturbance then does not attach to God as judge: but what is done by His ministers, in that it is done by His laws, is called His anger…”

Nonetheless, there is a reason why Scripture speaks of God’s anger – it puts an objective reality into terms that we can understand. Origen in Against Celsus, for example, says that “Anger not an emotional response on the part of God, but something he uses to correct those who have committed many serious sins.” 

The verse reminds us that God does care about what we do, and from our perspective at least, reacts to it.  And fear of hell is certainly a sufficient motivation to repent of our sins!

God’s rebuke

To return to the text of the verse,though, arguas comes from the verb arguere, which literally means to make clear or bright, to put in a clear light, and thus figuratively is used to mean to rebuke, censure, reprove, while corripere means to chastize, chasten, reprove or rebuke.

So the verse is an acknowledgment by the psalmist that his sins deserve God’s anger, that he has offended God.  He is saying that there is no need for God to act further to get him to accept that he has sinned; thanks to the prophet Nathan's efforts (2 Samuel 12), he has been led to do that.  Of course, actually acknowledging that we have sinned is not always that easy, as we shall see when we look at the second penitential psalm!

Still, what the psalmist seeks here, as Verse 2 (which I'll look at tomorrow), makes clear, is healing.

Prayer and contemplation

So let us too, make sure that we have listened and attended to the good counsel of those sent to us to stand in the place of Nathan, and undertake a good examination of conscience as we listen to the setting of the psalm by Hernando Franco (1532-1585), Maestro de Capilla de la Catedral de México.

And for the next part in this mini-series, go here.

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