1 Listen to my words, LORD,
consider my lament.
2 Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
3 In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
4 For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
5 The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
6 you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, LORD, detest.
7 But I, by your great love,
can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
toward you holy temple.
8 Lead me, LORD, in your righteousness
because of my enemies —
make you way straight before me.
9 Not a word from their mouth can be trusted;
their heart is filled with malice.
Their throat is an open grave;
with their tongues they tell lies.
10 Declare them guilty, O God!
Let their intrigues be their downfall.
Banish them from their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.
11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread you protection over them,
that those who love you name may rejoice in you.
12 Surely, LORD, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
(New International Version)
This is the fifth Psalm in a series that I’m using to get myself back to the Bible. I’m making no promises of getting through any more of them, except this one right here today. In my desire to get back to the Bible, I am taking just one small step at a time.
I don’t go to God with everything. In fact, I so rarely go to God these days unless something is really troubling me or giving me anxiety. I definitely do not go to Him each day with my requests and “wait expectantly.” That seems too presumptuous for me, because while I believe I can ask God for things, I also know He’s not going to give them all to me, so who I am to be expectant?
It seems a little ironic to me that the Psalmist waits “expectantly” and then two verses later says “the arrogant” cannot stand in God’s presence. But maybe he isn’t saying he is expectant for his requests to be granted. Maybe he is just waiting for a response at all, no matter what it is, because he believes God to be faithful. Or because he is desperate for answers. Or maybe he is blind to his own arrogance, looking always to the wickedness of others, but never seeing it in himself.
I often read the Psalms’ laments and am in awe of the writer’s words, so transparent and bold. He makes assumptions and judgments, always placing himself on the same side as God, assuming it’s his enemies that are wrong. I don’t have that same surety when I go to God. I have strong opinions and make my own judgments to other people, but I am always wary in bringing those same judgments to God. I feel small in his presence — not uncared for — just aware of my limited perspective in the face of His. I cringe when I hear other Christians proclaiming judgment with such conviction.
Not a word from their mouth can be trusted … evil people are not welcome … they have rebelled against you … banish them for their many sins …
These are words I’ve heard in real life, from the mouths of Christians condemning those they believe are guilty of sinning, which often include whole groups of people indiscriminately othered. And they might say that the Psalms justify their words, that there is precedent for asking God to banish and hate and destroy these “enemies.” But the Psalms are essentially one side of a conversation. Unlike other books of the Bible, where we hear God’s responses or Jesus’ teachings or a prophet’s messages from Heaven, Psalms are only the words of humans. And that distinction is important. We don’t know what God did or didn’t do in response to the laments and pleadings of his people.
The Psalms show us that we can go to God with anything — our fears and anxieties, our requests for support and vindication, our words of repentance and our words of disbelief. We can bring anything to God in any form, from simple sentences to more poetic metaphors (I mean, how great is “their throat is an open grave”? That’s a word picture if there ever was one.) The Psalms show us how all the ways in which we can pray and go to God. But I don’t think there is any valence assigned to the requests and pleas themselves, no intrinsic value of good/bad or right/wrong. What I mean is that just because a Psalmist prayed for destruction doesn’t mean that was the right or good thing for which to pray. It doesn’t mean God granted the request and brought down ruin. It just means God wants us to bring it all to Him.
When I’m angry or afraid, I say or feel a lot of things, but not all of those things should be said aloud or brought to pass. But we can bring them to God, no matter what they are, and then He’ll decide. We can “wait expectantly” for his response, but there is arrogance is believing we are always right and righteous. I guess that’s something I keep reminding myself as I read the Psalms — that even though something terrible is requested, it doesn’t mean God is in agreement.
What do you think? How do you feel when you read Psalms like this one?