October 7, 2019- The Question of Evil – Praying for Retribution and Justice? Psalm 94:12-23

God love crucifix.jpg

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
and whom you teach out of your law,

to give him rest from days of trouble,
until a pit is dug for the wicked.

For the Lord will not forsake his people;
he will not abandon his heritage;

for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

Who rises up for me against the wicked?
Who stands up for me against evildoers?

If the Lord had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.

When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.

When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.

Can wicked rulers be allied with you,
those who frame injustice by statute?

They band together against the life of the righteous
and condemn the innocent to death.

But the Lord has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.

He will bring back on them their iniquity
and wipe them out for their wickedness;
the Lord our God will wipe them out.

Psalm 94:12-23 (ESV)

The Psalms are generally where we go when we seek comfort, to pray and praise, to find the words to reach out to God when we have no words of our own.  The full range of human emotion is expressed in the Psalms- joy, grief, thankfulness, longing, despair, and even anger.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the existence of or the harsh language of the imprecatory psalms.

(imprecation: the act of calling down a curse) 

In the imprecatory psalms the prayer is that God would curse the enemies of the people. There’s a “God, please get this bad guy, and by the way, he deserves to die,” sort of theme in these psalms that just isn’t there in the more commonly known psalms. The imprecatory psalms are cries for justice- that wicked rulers be brought down, and that evil people would be punished for their crimes, and that injustice would be put to a stop. We are invited in to rally behind the psalmist’s rage.

We can relate to the psalmist’s angst here when we see unfair legislation passed or the powers of government used in improper ways.   When life or the world is unfair it is easy for us to understand where the psalmist is coming from and to chime right in.

When we see those who should be good stewards of society and of the common good made corrupt and people are suffering without cause it should make us angry.  We should cry out to God.  We should be honest about how injustice makes us feel.

Then we remember that God is a just God.  We remember that we are not always the “good guy.” In fact we are the bad guy a lot of the time.  We need to be reminded as Nathan reminded David in 2 Samuel 12:1-15 – “You are the man!”

David was disciplined by God for his transgressions- the loss of his son with Bathsheba and the ever-present sword dividing his house.  Yet David was also beloved of God, the forefather of Jesus, the true King of Israel and of all things.

So we should pray the imprecatory psalms with caution, and with the understanding that even at our best we are simul justus et peccator – sinners and saints at the same time.  While we rail against the injustice and sinfulness of the world we rail against the same sinful things in us at the same time. We ask God to find those times when “we are the man” and reveal them to us so we can confess them to Him- so we can put those impulses and evil deeds that we hate (but we do anyway) to death, and be forgiven.

When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.

God holds us up.  Even though we fail and even though we must drown the old Adam in the water of baptism on a daily basis, we are free to call out to God.  He will see that His justice is done.  He will defend and hold up those who belong to Him.

But the Lord has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.

 

August 1, 2017 “Just Me-n-Jesus?” Philippians 4:10-15

me n jesus

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone.  Philippians 4:10-15 (NRSV)

I can do all things in Him (Jesus) who strengthens me. (verse 13)

Verse 13 of the above passage from Philippians is often picked out and quoted on its own. Yes it is true that Jesus is our Strength, but that shouldn’t make us infer that the journey of following Jesus is just a “me-n-Jesus” sort of proposition.

In our country we have been conditioned to prize our independence, which is not always a bad thing. No one wants to be a mindless lemming that just goes along with the group without thinking about what the group is doing. Many people are also wired to be introverted, which means a little socialization goes a long way, as introverts primarily recharge their batteries by getting away from people and being alone.  Jesus Himself did this at times.  He went off to pray and fast by Himself quite often.  Taking times of solitude- in moderation- can be a healthy discipline.

It can be unwise to think we are too independent though. Not only do we move and breathe and have our strength because those things all come from God, we were created to live and operate in community.  Not just “me-n-Jesus,” but “me-n-Jesus AND the greater community,” is how it’s supposed to work.

This means we are supposed to engage in dialogue. We are supposed to contribute to the life and the well being of our families and communities.  We are, like the apostle Paul did, supposed to accept help from others when we need it.  We are called to the drama and the messiness of belonging to a community and participating in the life of the community.

We do encounter Jesus in the solitude of prayer and study, and those disciplines are important to our growth in understanding and faith. Yet there are some who will say things such as, “nature is my church,” and who claim to not need the fellowship and the encouragement of a Christian community.  Unfortunately when we miss out on being part of a community, we miss out on a vital way of connecting with God, and we miss out on sharing the strength and encouragement of others.

How can we live out our lives as Jesus followers and rely on His strength both one-on-one with Him in solitude, study, contemplation and prayer, AND in community, alongside fellow believers?