Meditation on Psalm 41

December 28, 2016



This is a tough one.  In his book, Reflections on The Psalms, CS Lewis comments on what he calls “the cursings” in the Psalms.  That is, those passages – and there are lots of them – that call for violent vengeance on the writer’s enemies.  Stuff like “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” (Psalm 137:9)  What can the Christian make of such talk?  I’ll leave that whole subject to Lewis for the moment, but note here that in this psalm we see at least a note of this notion:  “Be thou, of Lord, merciful to me that I might rise up and requite them” v. 10  (Moffat “pay them back”)

Maybe the more alienating idea we see in this psalm is David’s deliberate and determined view that the world is against him.  I don’t know.  Maybe what David is saying here is perfectly sane.  Maybe he really is surrounded by enemies who want him dead.  There is evidence to support such a conclusion in the parts of the Bible that recount David’s history.  He was constantly at war with some enemy or another, usually the Philistines, and so there really might have been plenty of people who hated him and wanted him dead.

But in this Psalm David is complaining about the very people who “visit” him on his sickbed.  Highly unlikely that any of those folks would have been Philistines.

But maybe they were people from within the government of Israel who held a grudge against David for one reason or another.  George H. W. Bush said “In politics, friends come and go; enemies accumulate.”   So maybe David’s perspective as recorded in this psalm is completely sane, even if not Christ-like.

But I wonder.  I really wonder.

We know that David is sick when he writes.  So sick that he is bedfast.  He imagines that even those who come to see him have ulterior motives:

When any of them visits me, his heart is false;

He gathers matter for his malice,

Then goes away to spread the tale.


This sounds paranoid.  I say so not as one who is expert in psychology, but as one who has read a little and who has, at times, imagined that the world was out to get him.  The next verse is more evidence for the case:


All who hate me are whispering together, forecasting evil for me.


But, let’s get away from modern psychology for a moment and back to the Bible.   The first statement of Jesus recorded in Mark’s Gospel includes the call to “Repent and believe the good news.”  I’ve been taught all my life that the term “repent” was actually a military term and literally meant to turn in one’s tracks and go the other way.  It was, as I understood it, the ancient equivalent of “about face.” That may have some validity, but there is much more to the idea.  Here is Ronald Rolheiser:


Our English translations of the Gospels don’t do justice to what Jesus is saying here. They translate, metanoia, with the word, repent. But, for us, the word repent has different connotations from what Jesus intended.  In English, repentance implies that we have done something wrong and must regretfully disavow ourselves of that action and begin to live in a new way. The biblical word, metanoia, has much wider connotations.

The word, metanoia, comes from two Greek words: Meta, meaning above; and Nous, meaning mind. Metanoia invites us to move above our normal instincts, into a bigger mind, into a mind which rises above the proclivity for self-interest and self-protection which so frequently trigger feelings of bitterness, negativity, and lack of empathy inside us. Metanoia invites us to meet all situations, however unfair they may seem, with understanding and an empathic heart. Moreover, metanoia stands in contrast to paranoia. In essence, metanoia is “non-paranoia”, so that Jesus’ opening words in the Synoptic Gospels might be better rendered: Be un-paranoid and believe that it is good news. Live in trust!


Read Rolheiser’s full article here.

Here is another exposition of the idea:

Simply put, metanoia is a word filled with remarkable meaning by the preaching of Christ and the apostles. It is not a word that comes replete with it’s own meaning.  The English word “repentance”, on the other hand, comes filled with it’s own meaning – it needs no supplementation by context. Repentance means to feel remorse or regret for your sins; it’s Latin root literally means “pain; suffering in view of being liable to punishment”. Metanoia has no such meaning associated with it. The word is Greek, and it is made up of two words: meta & nous. Meta means “after” or “change”, and nous is the Greek word for “mind”. The word means “after-mind” and signifies a change of mind: thinking one way, but then afterwards thinking another. It is the opposite of pronoia (pro-nous) which means before-mind: the mind or thinking you have before. Interestingly, there is another Greek word we frequently use in English that is related to metanoia: it is paranoia (paranous). Literally, the word means to be beside-mind, or we would say “out of your mind”, or “beside yourself”. Paranoia is not being in a right mind, but having a mind that is off center – that is, not where it should be. If you compare metanoia and paranoia together, you get the idea of what the New Testament call for metanoia is: it is a command to change your mind and get it where it should be.


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