Why do you boast, O mighty one,
of mischief done against the godly?
All day long you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery.
You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking the truth.
You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.
But God will break you down forever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living.
The righteous will see, and fear,
and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
“See the one who would not take refuge in God,
but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!”
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
I will thank you forever, because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
I will proclaim your name, for it is good.
Reflection – Well, our Monday trek through the Book of Psalms has taken us to this little gem, a rare example in the psalter of the psalmist denouncing an individual. This psalm presents its difficulties for personal prayer, and is downright embarrassing for communal prayer—what are we supposed to do in that context? Look at each other and sweetly chant ‘You love evil more than good…’?
This may well be a psalm that remains in the psalter unprayed more often than not, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Psalms of praise and thanksgiving, psalms of penitence and sorrow, psalms of entreaty and supplication all will have more to say to us at any given moment than a psalm of denunciation and invection.
Nonetheless, it is Scripture, and so we much look for the divine truth and purpose in it. And in fact there is a lot going on here. Too often we can reduce religion to something less than real, something that can only exist by carefully editing reality of the parts that don’t fit into it. We can do this in many ways, turning a blind eye to all manner of human experience and ‘inconvenient truths’ about life.
One way we do this, for which this psalm is a good corrective, is to make religion something ‘nice’. Something that nice people do with other nice people that is about nice things and has all sorts of nice feelings associated with it, and aren’t we all so very, very NICE about it all, all the time.
Well, the world is not always so nice. People are not always so nice. I am a firm believer in human goodness, both the actual presence of real goodness in a very great number of people and the potential for true goodness in all people. But let’s be real about it—there is also real nastiness in the world, real deceit, real selfishness, real meanness, real cruelty. And it is no part of a authentic and healthy religion to turn a blind eye to that very real, very awful, and deeply damaging aspect of
human life. Not everyone is well meaning. Not everyone is really a nice guy, but just misunderstood.
There are villains, there are evil-doers. It is sad that this is so, but it is so, and this psalm gives us good advice for what to do in the face of human villainy, human perfidy when we encounter it personally, up close, in our own lives.
Namely, we shouldn’t take it too seriously. We should ‘laugh at the evildoer’, not because the evil they do is uproariously funny and ineffectual. Uh, no. But because they are indeed doomed to failure in the long run, are playing on the wrong team, and in the end will be defeated (unless there is a happier ending yet, and they repent and convert to the winning side!).
In other words, when we are confronting real injustice, cruelty, wickedness—not just human weakness and foibles, but the real thing—we are inevitably disturbed and distressed by it, since it is an ugly, ugly thing. But we should not be devastated by it, should not be cast down, disheartened, discouraged, embittered by it. In the end, even if evil has its innings and seems to get the upper hand from time to time, good is stronger. God is stronger. Our life is to stay good, to seek the good, to do what is good, and to place all oru hope in the God who is Goodness Himself, and who is bringing the world to a good end and overthrowing utterly all evil in the process.
So cheer up! Laugh at the evildoer and strive to be that growing olive tree proclaiming the name of the Lord for it is good and He is faithful, and all shall be well in the end, even if the way there is pretty darned rocky and there are bad guys en route. They don’t matter, in the end. God does, and those who are striving to follow Him in all things.