Hello, I am Jim Jelinek, and with the Rev. Alan Neale, we serve Trinity Church in this time of pandemic and pray for our deliverance from this crisis. Fr. Neale and I have been offering daily meditations for and during this period, with the hope that they may be helpful to you. If not, you may just turn us off! It is that simple.
I say that particularly today because of the passage I have chosen from one of the psalms, much of which is not “nice.” In fact it begins in a rant and a rage.
Please listen carefully to Psalm 94 [1-14]:
O Lord God of vengeance, * O God of vengeance, show yourself.
Rise up, O Judge of the world; * give the arrogant their just deserts.
How long shall the wicked, O Lord, * how long shall the wicked triumph?
They bluster in their insolence; * all evildoers are full of boasting.
They crush your people, O Lord, * and afflict your chosen nation.
They murder the widow and the stranger * and put the orphans to death.
Yet they say, “The Lord does not see, * the God of Jacob takes no notice.”
Consider well, you dullards among the people; * when will you fools understand?
He that planted the ear, does he not hear? * he that formed the eye, does he not see?
He who admonishes the nations, will he not punish? *
he who teaches all the world, has he no knowledge?
The Lord knows our human thoughts; * how like a puff of wind they are.
Happy are they whom you instruct, O Lord! * whom you teach out of your law;
To give them rest in evil days, * until a pit is dug for the wicked.
For the Lord will not abandon his people; * nor will he forsake his own.
Let’s pause here for a moment and take this in.
Wow! This is a very dark anger, not just wanting the evil and the corruption to stop, but to be punished to the nth degree. The psalmist wants the “God of Vengeance,” as he names God, to respond with cruelty. There are portions of other psalms with this much anger, but it seems more sustained here than it is in any other psalm I can think of. I wonder which kingship this was written in, clearly one where not only the king but also his allies and cronies were committing great evil and enjoying much corruption. Perhaps it was written in the last decades in Egypt, by which time the memory of Joseph and his goodness had long been forgotten and the Hebrews had become slaves, and were given harder and harder burdens to bear. I simply do not remember if any of the psalms date from that early in Hebrew history. It is more likely it was written during the time of one of David’s descendants who sat on the throne. A good number of them had reputations for being really terrible kings and the people who lived under their rule suffered greatly. The people were abused and taken advantage of, stolen from, even killed. Their lives were cheap in the king’s mind and he treated them that way, taking what he wanted.
The psalmist does not only speak from this point of view. While he continues to go back and forth in his anger, he also notices that God has been there for him. Listen to the conclusion, beginning again with verse 14:
For the Lord will not abandon his people, * nor will he forsake his own.
For judgment will again be just, * and all the true of heart will follow it.
Who rose up for me against the wicked? * who took my part against the evildoers?
If the Lord had not come to my help, * I should soon have dwelt in the land of silence.
As often as I said, “My foot has slipped,” * your love, O Lord, upheld me.
When many cares fill my mind, * your consolations cheer my soul.
Can a corrupt tribunal have any part with you, * one which frames evil into law?
They conspire against the life of the just * and condemn the innocent to death.
But the Lord has become my stronghold, * and my God the rock of my trust.
He will turn their wickedness back upon them and destroy them in their own malice; *
the Lord our God will destroy them. Here ends the reading of Psalm 94.
Now we hear the psalmist’s faith emerging from his rage. He calms down considerably as he remembers the times when he has experienced God’s presence, upholding him with love when his foot had slipped, consoling him when caught up in worry and anxiety and fear. He is very clear that these leaders are not acting according to God’s teachings or leading; they are not in touch with God. And he also comes to the realization that their malice and evil will turn back on them and be their own undoing. Their “just deserts” are to be visited on them.
To suffer the consequences of our own foolishness is bad enough; none of us like consequences that are unpleasant to live through. Yet we bear those we have brought about ourselves because we must. And if we are wise, we take a deep look at ourselves and we go through a period of reflection, repentance and renewal. We are blessed to receive God’s forgiveness, and over time we learn how to forgive ourselves. That does not happen lightly; it takes a great deal of inner work.
It is always more difficult to bear the consequences of other people’s carelessness, recklessness or cruelty. First of all, it seems so unfair. What right do those others have to make me/us suffer this way? We know they have no right to do that. No religion gives anyone that right, and in this country our Constitution does not either. Secondly, we know that the behavior that causes such suffering is wrong. Yet when it is overlooked again and again, that is dispiriting. And when others try to justify their bad behavior, that is maddening. Most of us are simply not raised that way.
There are no simple solutions to many situations, including this pandemic which casts a cloud over so much of life. I think we have to take the modeling which the psalmist gives us, to reflect on our lives and look at the ways God holds us up when we slip, consoles us when we are worried or anxious, keeps reminding us that we are beloved, and urges us not to be afraid, yet when we are to reach out and take God’s hand.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you,, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Be of good cheer, for we have each other and we live within a loving God. If you wish to talk, please feel free to call. God bless you!