Tag Archives: evil

Evil: N.T. Wright helps you think it through, again

Friends, clients, and loved ones were wrestling with their experiences of evil this week. One was attacked at work and felt guilty, but then realized the accusations were so irrational, they might be evil.

Another watched The Comey Rule series on Netflix and was reintroduced to the evil ways of Donald Trump. Another was overwhelmed by the sheer extent of evil that has gone into the production of climate change. Another was disheartened because the church is not better than the world and seems as subject to the aforementioned evils as anyone else.

Have I already used the word “evil” too much for you? Or is it still OK to name it where you come from? Last week, Governors Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbot, both claiming to be practicing Catholics, used immigrating Venezuelans to own the libs in Barack Obama’s playground. Did you call that evil? Name it a political stunt? Call it illegal human trafficking? Consider it an appropriate response to an onslaught of border crossers? Did you sink into confusion? Stay uncommitted? Remain avoidant? Evil is harder to identify than one might think and even harder to deal with, especially in an environment in which it is often a word you’d be embarrassed to say. Maybe you haven’t said “Jesus” in polite company in a while, either.

I was companioning someone in their spiritual growth not long ago and they broke into tears because of the evil done to them. They were “triggered” by their church’s feckless response to the present evils that threatened them. They asked, “Why does God allow evil to flourish if he loves us?”

Exodus 1952-66 by Marc Chagall. Used for the cover of the Chinese version.

Why is there evil?

Brilliant people have been answering that question for centuries, ever since European Christians wanted their theology to compete with every philosopher that popped up. Why is there evil and why doesn’t God save me from it all if Jesus saves? That’s the perennial question. I still like N.T. Wright’s stab at dealing with it in his book Evil and the Justice of God. I rarely think his applications have as much genius as his theologizing, but I think he was mainly gifted to think well for us, so that’s OK. Here is a summary of the book, if you like.

Spoiler alert. People criticize Wright for answering the perennial question by not answering it. He says the Bible doesn’t answer it, which leads him to believe he doesn’t need to either — what is beyond us is beyond us. He is much more interested in talking about what God is doing about evil than what, exactly, and why it is. God’s action in response to evil is a topic the Bible exhaustively explores. Likewise, the Bible leads us to learn what we should do about it, since “the line between good and evil runs through each one of us” [video including Jesus, Solzhenitsyn, and many others].

I thought about Wright when my comrades were lamenting and I was confronted with the question again, which usually feels like a temptation to me – “Why is their evil and why didn’t Jesus fix it for me?” Wright does a better job at what I am about to try, when he tries to get behind what we feel about facing evil in us and around us. But here is a small bit of thinking to keep evil in your sights before it overwhelms you.

God judging Adam — Wiliam Blake. Used for the audible version

Back to Adam and Eve

Demanding an answer to the questions “Why is there evil if the creator is good?” and “Why am I experiencing evil if our loving Savior has already defeated it?” is a lot like the dialogue between Adam and God in the Garden of Eden.

God: Why did you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
Adam: The woman gave me the fruit. It’s her fault.

Somehow the dialogue about good and evil usually ends with shame and blame.

The argument goes on, something like this. We would know; we’re often replicating it.:

God: Why did you choose evil?
Adam: I wouldn’t have had the choice if you had not offered it. You’re God, after all.  Why did you supply it? Besides, I didn’t choose it. It happened to me. It is happening everywhere.
God: But aren’t your questions more important to you than my love? Didn’t you choose the question?

The deepest expression of the image of God in us is love. God is love. God is not you or your knowledge or your control or your safety. The power of the knowledge of good and evil will not protect you from others, yourself, or God.

Roku has been playing a film of a live performance of the musical Heathers in which a high school couple sings “Our Love Is God.” The thought of it was creepy when I first heard it sung and keeps getting moreso as the play goes on. The power struggle in us destroys and destroys.

The Garden dialogue went on, and goes on in us, something like this:

God: As my friend who I gave this garden, as my loved one, you greeted my question with skepticism and reproach. You set yourself up as my judge, and your own. You ate the fruit.
You prefer the control you gain by staying ignorant and miserable instead of being receptive and humble before the unknown. You don’t trust me.

Wright works with this in his great chapter on forgiveness:

It will [always] be possible for people to refuse forgiveness–both to give it and to receive it–but [in the end] they will no longer have the right or the opportunity thereby to hold God and God’s future world to ransom, to make the moral universe rotate around the fulcrum of their own sulk.

I have often said to myself, and to others, in the middle of these questions and answers, “If evil were not happening around you, you would invent it. You are just like Adam and Eve. If we dare to look, we can see how we perpetuate the loveless habits of our childhood self-protection schemes. We can’t part with the patterns because we think we’ll lose ourself without them. Every day we get mad at people we can’t control and keep protecting against the terrible feelings of need we have and rebel against the demand to trust, hope and care.

If you want more on the themes of political and corporate aspects of evil, Wright might suggest Engaging the Powers, by Walter Wink. For thoughts on forgiveness, see Exclusion and Embrace, by Miroslav Volf. For answers to the problem of evil in modern thought, see Evil in Modern Thought, by Sue Neiman or The Crucified God, by Jurgen Moltmann.

If you want to follow Wright into what God is ultimately going to do about evil, you could check out his most accessible book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.  In it, he does a final takedown on Greek philosophy and offers a vision of eternal life that matches the Bible better than what most of us have been taught. If you are tired of thinking about how terrible the world is, how evil is at the door, this book might encourage you by opening up a good thinker’s vision of the future. Spoiler alert: It is better.

Seeing the curse coming — redux

This is among the first posts I ever blogged. I am on vacation (again) this week, but I thought I would repeat this, since it still makes sense.

Death of Jezebel — Gustav Dore

The other day when we were reading Psalm 109 during noon prayer, we understood it completely wrong. We heard verses 6-19 like they were the psalmist pronouncing a long curse on someone. It was hard to take thirteen verses of curse! Sometimes the Psalms get a little rough for us, since we’ve all been taught to keep our emotions subject to our theories and politics. We’ve had to get used to all that angry talk and wild reactions in the Psalms jarring our sensibilities a little – this one, however, just seemed over the top:

“May his children become orphans

            and his wife a widow.” (v.9)

 

Who would say such a thing?! We were uncomfortable reading it.

The prayer starts off in a way we could relate to more easily:

 “In return for my love they accuse me,

            though my prayer is for them.

And they offer me evil in return for good

            and hatred in return for my love: (Psalm 109:4-5)

 

That we could pray. We’ve all been abused and misunderstood. I’m not very good at seeing it — but I am sometimes hated. I’m usually shocked when I find out about what someone feels about me or says about me, but sometimes I do find out I have an opponent who doesn’t mind taking me out behind my back. In return for my love, they hate me.

No, the curse is coming at me!

We thought what came next was the Psalmist pronouncing a long curse on the people who returned hate for love:

“Appoint a wicked man over him,

            let an accuser stand at his right…

Let his days be few,

            may another man take his post….

May his offspring be cut off,

            in the next generation his name wiped out”

 

It was going on and on. One of us finally said, “Whew!” Because we usually think – “If it is in the Bible, then it is an example for us.” If the Psalms are a prayer book, this is a wild prayer! We were a little hesitant to say the prayer.

We didn’t understand that vv. 6-19 is a quote of what someone else is saying about the psalmist, not what he is saying about them. The prayer is about being taken out, being hated, being attacked by an evil person. He ends up crying out for mercy:

“And You, O Lord, Master,

            act on my behalf for the sake of Your name,

                        for Your kindness is good. O save me!

For poor and needy am I,

            and my heart is pierced within me.”

 

Out of touch with the forces against you?

My realization from a few days of using this Psalm and studying it is I get surprisingly out of touch with the forces that are coming against me! Evil and its allies want me destroyed. You may have the opposite problem and think I am kind of nutty, since you’re effectively paranoid all day — so have some mercy. I had such a resistance to pronouncing a curse that I didn’t see the curse coming at me — even in the safety of my own prayer book!

In Celtic Daily Prayer today, it says “Our society teaches us to be suspicious of what is good, and to listen passively to whatever is evil.” We may not even be aware that evil is coming at us! When it does, we may invite it in for a drink because we are committed to being nice, or at least committed to appearing nice. I want to love and trust first, but I don’t want to be nice to evil. Even worse, I don’t want to impassively stew in what’s wrong until it cooks me.

So I recommend some appropriate drama today. Let’s pray it together: “I am surrounded! I am needy! Save me!” Let’s be appropriately concerned that we might be mean to someone. But for those of you like me, let’s be appropriately aware that we have opponents. We’re doing good things and they will be opposed. We are made good in Jesus and we, because of that good at work within us, are dangerous, as far as the Lord’s opponents are concerned. They will try to take us out.

We mostly have opponents because they oppose us, not because we are bad.

A few years ago, some of us were reading Psalm 109 together during our noon prayer time.  It may not be on your top-ten psalms list, so give it a try.

When we read it, we had a groupthink moment and ALL got the wrong impression about what was going on. When we heard verses 6-19, we thought the psalmist was pronouncing a long curse on someone! We suspected something like that was in the Bible, and here it was! It was hard to take thirteen verses of curse! We are nice, of course, and we at least keep our curses short.

Sometimes the Psalms feel a little rough to us, since we’ve all been taught to keep our emotions subject to our theories and politics. What’s more, a lot of us just don’t trust anyone, so we never share what we really think or feel. So all that angry, vulnerable poetry in the Psalms jars our sensibilities a little. This one seemed VERY jarring:

“May his children become orphans

            and his wife a widow.” (v.9)

Who would say such a thing!! We were uncomfortable reading it. How did THIS prayer get in the Psalms?

Oh, it is SOMEONE ELSE talking

The prayer had started off in a way we could relate to more easily:

 “In return for my love, they accuse me,

            though my prayer is for them.

And they offer me evil in return for good

            and hatred in return for my love: (Psalm 109:4-5)

That we could pray. We’ve all been abused and misunderstood. I’m not very good at seeing it — but I am sometimes hated. I’m usually shocked when I find out about what someone feels about me or says about me, but sometimes I do find out that I have an opponent who doesn’t mind taking me out behind my back. In return for my love, they hate me.

We thought what came next was the Psalmist pronouncing a long curse on the people who returned hate for love:

“Appoint a wicked man over him,

            let an accuser stand at his right…

Let his days be few,

            may another man take his post….

May his offspring be cut off,

            in the next generation his name wiped out”

It was going on and on. One of us finally said, “Whew!” Because we usually think – “If it is in the Bible, then it is an example for us.” If the Psalms are a prayer book, this is a wild prayer! But we were more than a little hesitant to say the prayer.

We didn’t understand that vv. 6-19 is a quote of what someone else is saying about the psalmist, not what he is saying about them. The prayer is about being taken out, being hated, being attacked by an evil person. He ends up crying out for mercy:

“And You, O Lord, Master,

            act on my behalf for the sake of Your name,

                        for Your kindness is good. O save me!

For poor and needy am I,

            and my heart is pierced within me.”

My realization after using this Psalm and studying what it really says is this: I can get surprisingly out of touch with the forces that are coming against me! Evil and its allies want me destroyed. You may have the opposite problem and think I am kind of nutty, since you’re effectively paranoid all day — so have some mercy. I had such a resistance to pronouncing a curse that I didn’t see the curse coming at me — even in the safety of my own prayer book!

Poor, needy, opposed — admit it

In Celtic Daily Prayer it says “Our society teaches us to be suspicious of what is good, and to listen passively to whatever is evil.” We are even getting used to Trump’s daily lies! We may not even be aware that evil is coming at us! Look at how so many have sacrificed children to screen domination and allowed porn to provide a generation’s sex education. When evil does come at us, we may invite it in for a drink because we are committed to being nice, or at least committed to appearing nice — “Who am I to judge whether any screens or sexual practices are unhealthy?”

I want to love and trust first, but I don’t want to be nice to evil. Even worse, I don’t want to impassively stew in what’s wrong until it cooks me.

So I recommend some appropriate drama today. Let’s pray it together: “I am surrounded! I am needy! Save me!” 2018 could be 2017 doubled, Lord!

Let’s be appropriately concerned that we might be mean to someone. But for those of you who are like me, let’s be appropriately aware that we have opponents. We’re doing good things and they will be opposed — so opposed that our opponents might wear us down or throw us into defensive apathy. Lord knows that if we keep harping on mass incarceration there is a domestic army willing to defend itself! We are made good in Jesus and we, because of that good at work within us, are dangerous, as far as the Lord’s opponents are concerned. They just might try to take us out. We just might need a Savior!

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Is God Going to Punish Me?

You are not condemned yet.

In God we live and move and have our being. God might be holding on to us by the slenderest of threads, but he is holding on. God wants us to live, not die. I think the last thing God wants is for us to live in fear of him dropping us into hell.

Yet we still wonder if we are about ready to be dropped. “Is God going to punish me?” — that is not a dumb question if you are a Bible reader. The Bible seems to plainly say that he is:  “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). In other translations, “he will punish” is translated “he will take revenge.” The root idea has to do with working out justice. Justice is going to be done. At the end of days, those who have turned away from God will be sent the direction they are facing forever. So yes, you could definitely call that punishment. God is going to punish us if we refuse to relate to him and we work out death instead of life.

We are not being punished for our sins right now, however. That’s not going to happen until time is up — and it is not up, yet. Consider that there is a difference between the punishment 2 Thessalonians is talking about, and the process of our father responding to the consequences of our choices. There is a final judgment that will bring things to right. But God is forestalling that day, and that punishment. What we experience now is his loving discipline that brings us to life. Romans 8 says that there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because the Lord Jesus took all of the Father’s condemnation on Himself on the cross. He wrestled evil to exhaustion. The true state of every Jesus lover is uncondemned.

Yet we still wonder if we are condemned. “Is God mad at me? What is going on? Why is this situation working out so poorly? Why do I work so poorly? Am I being punished? Did I cause God to make me sick or make me lose my loved one?” Those jumbled up feelings come with the process of being disciplined for life, not because we are locked up in condemnation, like we used to be. Here is a key Bible passage about that:  

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline —then you are not legitimate children at all. Moreover, we have all had parents who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! (Hebrews 12).

When uncondemned people experience the struggle of becoming free of the vestiges of sin and death hanging on them, they should consider it the discipline of the Lord, leading us out of darkness into light. We are like babies in the Spirit and we need our Parent to help us learn how to walk and run and build in the Spirit.

So if you are in Christ, God is not punishing you — and I say you only need a mustard seed of faith to be in Christ. You’ll want more faith, but it doesn’t take much to have enough —  and God is the judge of what is enough, not you or me. If you are turned toward Jesus and following, God is not punishing you in the sense that he has judged you unworthy of him and has given you over to die  —  and he never will.

But what do I do about feeling condemnable?

A young woman wrote into one of the internet question sites. She said “I am so depressed right now because I feel all the mistakes in my past mistakes are so many that I won’t have a good future. I’m 29 years old and I had 2 abortions before I was 20. Two years ago I slept with my boyfriend even though I was already a Christian; we went our separate ways because of this. (He’s also a Christian.) I have been single ever since and I have been told that I am being punished for all my sins. Does this mean because of what happened in my past I will never find peace, joy or fulfillment? Does this mean God will never trust me with a relationship again? Will I have to pay for the rest of my life? Will He refuse to forgive me since I made the mistakes when I was already a Christian? I have been so tormented by all this and I am in constant pain–my heart aches. I really don’t know what to do, I have prayed and asked for forgiveness, don’t know what else to do. All I feel is guilt, guilt, guilt.

What can we say to such a poor, dear soul? She is experiencing something most of us feel at some level. She has acted in ways that have consequences; she has sinned. She doesn’t experience peace, or joy, or fulfillment. A very simple way to respond might be, “It seems like your cup is upside down.” You think and feel like you are still condemned. God’s grace is bouncing off your condemnation.

When she asks, “Will I have to pay for the rest of my life?” The answer is, “No, you will not have to pay for the rest of your life.” God just wants you to turn your cup right side up. You already turned her way; you’re feeling the sorrow of being sinful. Don’t stay camped out in a living death with your cup upside down! If you are camped out in living death, feeling guilty and liable to punishment (maybe even feeling like you are being actively punished!), you need to turn your cup up and receive freedom from condemnation.

Maybe that sounds a little too easy to be useful. That’s probably true. Even though we are uncondemned, that condition has not necessarily made us smarter or altogether capable:

1. God is not interested in punishing us, but WE might be.

For instance, my parents were very poor as children and did not get enough to eat. When I was a child they taught me to eat every scrap of food I was given because there might not be more food coming. They did not mean this to be a big lesson, but it is what they thought. I took in what they believed and made it part of what I believe, even though we had enough food to eat. I still follow the rule even though I am surrounded by a sea of food. To this day, I almost never go out to eat without cleaning my plate completely of luxurious, expensive food. Should I feel guilty about not eating my food, as if I am a bad person, as if I will be condemned for that? Of course not! But what do I do, if I do feel that way, if I have that way installed in me?

I need to work with the discipline of the Lord, freeing me and making me holy. I would not want to resent the discipline of learning to live as a free brother of Jesus just because it is hard! I suppose I could see the whole experience of realizing something in me that is messing me up as a disaster that shows that I am unsaved and unredeemable — “I can’t stop fretting about food!” But what is really happening is this: I am being disciplined to be a free being. God does not want to punish me, but I might think being punished is normal, and might live under all sorts of irrational rules that kill me, not free me. I have thoughts and habits of the heart that are not fully aligned with how God sees me or how God wishes I could see the universe. I need to turn my cup up.

2.  God is not interested in punishing us, but the WORLD might be.

We could talk about the U.S. punishing Afghanistan as evidence. The NCAA is punishing Penn State. The irrational family courts are punishing husbands or wives. We are surrounded by a huge prison punishment industry in Pennsylvania. Cheaters on tests have been punished in our schools. Lance Armstrong lost his tour de France titles. We love “justice.” I am in school, so I am afraid of how my professors might punish my errors, as they see them. You might work in an office and feel afraid to talk to the boss for fear of what she might do to you. Everything is illegal in Philly, so most of us could be accosted by the police at any moment. We fear “justice.”

I am an uncondemned person, but what if everything around me tells me that what I am doing is wrong and expects me to take that seriously all day, or else? It is a problem, if we don’t work with it as part of the Lord disciplining us for freedom and grace. Turn the cup up.

3. God is not interested in punishing us, but EVIL FORCES might be.

The devil is not an anti-god who is able to influence us all day. But there are forces that would like us to fail and die. When Jesus was baptized and made his first steps toward the public ministry that would lead him to death and resurrection, it says that “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”  Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Jesus could have made bread from stones, but humans can’t. One of the reasons he did not make bread from stones is because he was fully identified with us in every way — all the good and all the bad. In the event of the devil’s temptation, obedience to the process of discipline was more important than the gratification of not being hungry. Jesus did not take the situation into his own hands, like humans are tempted to do. He waited on God like humans need to wait. The discipline seems hard, but this first defeat of the evil one foreshadowed the ultimate thrashing Jesus is gave him in God’s time.

We were talking about feeling great as a church the other day. And then we started naming all the ways we felt people were being tempted and turned away by evil. Getting more free and being attacked are kind of the same process for God’s children. The devil might want the process of growing in faith to kill us, or at least feel like it is killing us. But since we are uncondemnable and are walking with Jesus, all that temptation just trains us for being our true selves. We need to keep the cup turned up.

I don’t think anyone needs to tell you, “You are hanging by a slender thread,” so you will wake up and not be cast into the fire. I think you have enough guilt right now to motivate you. I think you have enough fear. I think you have enough loneliness to make you wonder if God is punishing you. Elements of your own being, the world, and evil forces are all conspiring to make you feel condemned when you are not. Turn up your cup; you are not condemned! Though we are still a bit stupid and unable, God will help us as we face the temptation to believe the lies that tell us we are unforgiveable, or that we have a God bent on our destruction — you are not unforgiveable and you do not have that kind of Lord. You have a God determined that you will live forever. He has forgiven you and will forgive you and make you whole. If you don’t experience it all tomorrow, just wait; it is coming. Turn your cup up.

Ravi and Clementi — Let’s watch out for one another.

Poor Dharun Ravi and poor Tyler Clementi! It is like evil swooped in to their dorm room and carried them both away.

In case you have not been following this tragic case that has been played out in the press for over a year, Ravi found out how to use his webcam remotely and spied on his roommate having an intimate encounter with another man. Days later Clementi told his FB friends he was jumping off the George Washington Bridge with a few words and, “Sorry.” He never read the text Ravi had sent him asking for friendship. The jury found that Ravi’s intentions were not to intimidate, but the impact of his actions did intimidate, just the same, and convicted him on fifteen counts. [Get the whole story in the New Yorker]

Let’s watch out for one another.

1) Even though the TV has shown people being watched on camera to see what funny things they might do for your entire life, it is still not right.

Even though there is a TV show (Person of Interest) that makes a point of noting how we have a camera watching us constantly, their point is that such an invasion of privacy is horrible, not inevitable. Let’s not take pictures of people if they don’t want us to. And let’s never post them without their consent, especially to make fun of them.

2) Everyone is probably more fragile than we know.

Clementi instant-messaged a friend “[I]ts not like he left the cam on or recorded anything. He just like took a five sec peep lol.” But then, after a second encounter with his older sexual partner (after draping Ravi’s camera and preventing another peep), he jumped from a bridge. We’ll never know if he was bullied into it, or if he had other significant problems that no one will ever know. Let’s take one another seriously. Humor is good when it is based in joy and mutual acceptance; heartbreaking when it is based on contempt.

3) The younger we are the more we seem liable to research someone rather than get to know them.

Ravi had a lot of information on his roommate before he moved in to Rutgers with him. He had already researched him and discussed his research with his friends. It did not make for an intimate relationship. Granted, 18 year old men are not known for creating a lot of intimacy, but treating people like they are things is deadly. Let’s be careful with Google, Facebook and all the other ways we impersonally collect data on each other. Loves covers people with grace.

4) We are all having struggles with sex.

Poor Tyler Clementi sounds like he was being as brave as he could be with his struggle. He had a tearful discussion with his parents about his same-sex attraction. He was acting in a risky way by commandeering his room for the night for sex. What hasn’t been widely talked about is that he was part of a church youth group before he went to college. The general repression Christians have in regard to sex may have made his explorations even more difficult. Let’s remember some of the things we think about sex. It is not just a personal expression; it is about partnering and it happens in a context full of relationships. It is almost never kept private. Like everything, it relates to God.

5) We need to keep clear of the authorities.

Not only are they watching us, citizens can be killed abroad [link]; the government has given the go-ahead to fly remotely-controlled drones in our airspace [link]; Dharun Ravi was convicted of fifteen charges of spying for watching a three-minute kiss and unsuccessfully trying to do it again. He didn’t even know it was wrong. He didn’t take a plea bargain because he didn’t think he could be convicted. He underestimated the power of Lambda Legal and other enraged advocacy groups that tend to fuel litigation. I think he also underestimated the reality of being a brown person from India in the United States [comments from India in The Hindu]. I imagine I underestimate just how much trouble I could get into by writing this blog post. In Ravi’s trial they put up instant-messaging trails and chat streams on the screen to validate some point of law they were making. Many of us have not forgotten how our unstable but well-connected neighbor on Tenth St. managed to get us under a five-year injunction for making too much noise when we worshipped. There is not a lot of justice out there, even though there is a lot of money spent on procuring it. Quoting one of Clementi’s favorite musicals, “May God bless and keep the Tsar (Russian for Caesar) far away from us!”

During Lent, if we are with Jesus in the wilderness and not just trying to cram Jesus into our wilderness, we can notice evil better.

Just like Jesus was confronted with the destructive delusions of evil and tempted to join in, we can notice how we are being tempted ourselves. It looks like the poor young men of Rutgers had too few resources to deal with what they were handed, even when society handed it to them with the full expectation that they could, and then came down on them with full social and legal ramifications when they couldn’t. They needed a Savior, and so do we.

Seeing the Curse Coming

The other day when we were reading Psalm 109 during noon prayer, we understood it completely wrong. We heard verses 6-19 like they were the psalmist pronouncing a long curse on someone. It was hard to take thirteen verses of curse! Sometimes the Psalms get a little rough for us, since we’ve all been taught to keep our emotions subject to our theories and politics. We’ve had to get used to all that angry talk and wild reactions in the Pslams jarring our sensibilities a little – this one, however, just seemed over the top:

“May his children become orphans

            and his wife a widow.” (v.9)

Who would say such a thing!! We were uncomfortable reading it.

 The prayer starts off in a way we could relate to more easily:

 “In return for my love they accuse me,

            though my prayer is for them.

And they offer me evil in return for good

            and hatred in return for my love: (Psalm 109:4-5)

That we could pray. We’ve all been abused and misunderstood. I’m not very good at seeing it — but I am sometimes hated. I’m usually shocked when I find out about what someone feels about me or says about me, but sometimes I do find out that I have an opponent who doesn’t mind taking me out behind my back. In return for my love, they hate me.

We thought what came next was the Psalmist pronouncing a long curse on the people who returned hate for love:

“Appoint a wicked man over him,

            let an accuser stand at his right…

Let his days be few,

            may another man take his post….

May his offspring be cut off,

            in the next generation his name wiped out”

It was going on and on. One of us finally said, “Whew!” Because we usually think – “If it is in the Bible, then it is an example for us.” If the Psalms are a prayer book, this is a wild prayer! We were a little hesitant to say the prayer.

We didn’t understand that vv. 6-19 is a quote of what someone else is saying about the psalmist, not what he is saying about them. The prayer is about being taken out, being hated, being attacked by an evil person. He ends up crying out for mercy:

“And You, O Lord, Master,

            act on my behalf for the sake of Your name,

                        for Your kindness is good. O save me!

For poor and needy am I,

            and my heart is pierced within me.”

My realization from a few days of using this Psalm and studying it is that I get surprisingly out of touch with the forces that are coming against me! Evil and its allies want me destroyed. You may have the opposite problem and think I am kind of nutty, since you’re effectively paranoid all day — so have some mercy. I had such a resistance to pronouncing a curse that I didn’t see the curse coming at me — even in the safety of my own prayer book!

In Celtic Daily Prayer today, it says “Our society teaches us to be suspicious of what is good, and to listen passively to whatever is evil.” We may not even be aware that evil is coming at us! When it does, we may invite it in for a drink because we are committed to being nice, or at least committed to appearing nice. I want to love and trust first, but I don’t want to be nice to evil. Even worse, I don’t want to impassively stew in what’s wrong until it cooks me.

So I recommend some appropriate drama today. Let’s pray it together: “I am surrounded! I am needy! Save me!” Let’s be appropriately concerned that we might be mean to someone. But for those of you like me, let’s be appropriately aware that we have opponents. We’re doing good things and they will be opposed. We are made good in Jesus and we, because of that good at work within us, are dangerous, as far as the Lord’s opponents are concerned. They will try to take us out.