We read Psalm 35-36 today … and it isn’t all easy.
Morning – Psalm 35. Sometimes what God says to us that is demanding and difficult. At other times it is what people are honestly experiencing and expressing to him that hurts our ears and our heart. Scripture is full of both and no small number of the psalms drip with the latter.
Truly, the psalms are not for the faint of heart. But, they are the words of those who don’t want their heart to faint. Indeed, it can be very hard for us to to give ear to, and truly hear with our heart, another’s profound pain. When hurts that speak of great injustice and real violence are repeatedly expressed with gut-wrenching honesty, the way is not easy or pleasant. But, to be called to grieve greatly with those who greatly grieve is the call of Ps. 35 to us. And so, let us go there, and not succumb to the temptation to “walk by on the other side.”
As we read this psalm we grope for words as we try to take in what the psalmist is being forced to endure. It makes us audibly groan to know that this one who is abused once gave great goodness to those who now seek his life. But, what causes us to gasp, and what we’re called to grapple with most of all, is to hear the author pray to God for his oppressor’s destruction (vs. 1-8, etc.). Our soul is shaken and we want to shake the writer and shout in their ear, “Don’t become what you despise! Refuse to become like those who hurt you!”
To say the least, this psalm challenges us. I don’t know that any one answer, or combination of observations, is sufficient in light of the words “love your enemies.” It is what it is. But, consider this: the psalmist does not vow their own vengeance, but calls on the Lord to deal out justice. This is no small difference. The psalmist is down and being kicked to death, as it were, and prays not for God to give him strength to get up and give pay back, but turns such over to God, calling on God to give justice. And so, this psalmist’s words can be taken as more about restraint than revenge. “God, I won’t do what others believe is well within my rights to do, no, I’m calling on you to do what is right by me.” And that is good ground that we can build on.
And so, this can be a message to us whenever we actively grieve with others and find ourselves grasping for things we can say or do to give practical help, to do at least this much: actively seek to steer the abused away from the steep, twin cliffs of personal vengeance and utter despair.
Evening. Though Psalm 36 is another psalm of personal grief, it is so very different in tone from the one that precedes it. It is good to have these psalms paired together for us as a single encounter! In a sense, Ps. 36 takes us away from the cliff edge and places us on a mountaintop:
“… with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (vs. 9) Let us linger there on that summit for awhile.