Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible (Augsburg Fortress, 1970, Kindle Edition).
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Do the Psalms, as Holy Scripture, primarily represent the thoughts, feelings, experiences and longings of those by whom, and for whom, they were originally composed? Or do we draw a straight line from each psalm to our own experience, and appropriate each prayer as if ti were our own?
Neither, says Bonhoeffer.
In this short book, Bonhoeffer argues that the Psalms should be understood, first and foremost, as the Prayer Book of Jesus Christ. It is only as we are in Christ that we can make these prayers our own.
This is quite a radical, if hugely attractive, proposition. I must admit that I’m still undecided about whether the Psalms should be understood as being primarily about Christ, or as being ultimately about Christ.
Still, Bonhoeffer’s thoughts are well worth pondering. So here are some extracts:-
If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible and especially the Psalms, therefore, we must not ask first what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ. (p14)
According to the witness of the Bible, David is, as the anointed king of the chosen people of God, a prototype of Jesus Christ. What happens to him happens to him for the sake of the one who is in him and who is said to proceed from him, namely Jesus Christ. (p18)
And he is not unaware of this, but “being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:30 f.). David was a witness to Christ in his office, in his life, and in his words. The New Testament says even more. In the Psalms of David the promised Christ himself already speaks (Hebrews 2: 12; 10:5) or, as may also be indicated, the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 3:7). These same words which David spoke, therefore, the future Messiah spoke through him. The prayers of David were prayed also by Christ. Or better, Christ himself prayed them through his forerunner David. (p18)
Even David did not pray out of the personal exuberance of his heart, but out of the Christ who dwelled in him. To be sure, the one who prays his Psalms remains himself. But in him and through him it is Christ who prays. (p19)
Jesus himself says about the Psalms in general that they announced his death and his resurrection and the preaching of the Gospel (Luke 24:44 f.). (p20)
It is the incarnate Son of God, who has borne every human weakness in his own flesh, who here pours out the heart of all humanity before God and who stands in our place and prays for us. He has known torment and pain, guilt and death more deeply than we. Therefore it is the prayer of the human nature assumed by him which comes here before God. It is really our prayer, but since he knows us better than we know ourselves and since he himself was true man for our sakes, it is also really his prayer, and it can become our prayer only because it was his prayer. (p20)
Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power. (p26)
The creation serves the believer, and everything created by God is good if received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:3 f.). But we are able to give thanks only for that which stands in harmony with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The creation with all its gifts is there for the sake of Jesus Christ. So we thank God for the grandeur of his creation with, in, and through Jesus Christ, to whom we belong. (p29)
That God could at one time conceal his command from me (Psalm 119:19), that he could allow me one day not to recognize his will, is the deepest anxiety of the new life. (p31)
We pray these Psalms when we regard all that God does once for his people as done for us, when we confess our guilt and God’s grace, when we hold God true to his promises on the basis of his former benefits and request their fulfillment, and when we finally see the entire history of God with his people fulfilled in Jesus Christ, through whom we have been helped and will be helped. For the sake of Jesus Christ we bring God thanksgiving, petition, and confession. (p35)
What Mount Zion and the temple were for the Israelites the church of God throughout the world is for us–the church where God always dwells with his people in word and sacrament. (p40)
Precisely at the point where men must make many sacrifices in following Jesus, as did the disciples, they will answer, “Nothing!” to the question of Jesus, “Did you lack anything?” (Luke 22 :35). The presupposition for this is the insight of the Psalms: “Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked” (Psalm 37: 1 6). (p44)
No individual can repeat the lamentation Psalms out of his own experience; it is the distress of the entire Christian community at all times, as only Jesus Christ has experienced it entirely alone, which is here unfolded. (p47)
If I am guilty. why does God not forgive me? If I am not guilty, why does he not bring my misery to an end and thus demonstrate my innocence to my enemies? (Psalms 38, 44, 79). There are no theoretical answers in the Psalms to all these questions. as there are none in the New Testament. The only real answer is Jesus Christ. But this answer is already sought in the Psalms. It is common to all of them that they cast every difficulty and agony on God: “We can no longer bear it. take it from us and bear it yourself, you alone can handle suffering.” That is the goal of all of the lamentation Psalms. They pray concerning the one who took upon himself our diseases and bore our infirmities, Jesus Christ. They proclaim Jesus Christ to be the only help in suffering, for in him God is with us. (p48)
We know that there is no longer any suffering on earth in which Christ will not be with us, suffering with us and praying with us–Christ the only helper. (p49)
It is an abbreviation and an endangering of Christian prayer if it revolves exclusively around the forgiveness of sins. There is such a thing as the confident leaving behind of sin for the sake of Jesus Christ. (p50)