Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly;
the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
They utter lies to each other;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail;
our lips are our own—who is our master?”
“Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan,
I will now rise up,” says the Lord;
“I will place them in the safety for which they long.”
The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure,
silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
You, O Lord, will protect us;
you will guard us from this generation forever.
On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among humankind.
Reflection – The Monday Psalter has delivered up for us a real doozy this time – I had forgotten what a run of ‘tough’ psalms there were in this first section of the book.
So this psalm may or may not be one that you yourself feel inclined to pray as a personal cry of the heart. The language is extreme for sure—‘on every side the wicked prowl… vileness is exalted among humankind…there is no longer anyone who is godly…’ and so forth. This may or may not be your experience of reality.
It is a great gift of the book of psalms, though, that it provides a prayer for just about every possible situation people can find themselves in, for every possible mood and move of the human condition. And in that, it gives the proper spiritual attitude, the disposition of the mind and heart that is in accord with God’s will for us, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
Here, we are in the most difficult circumstances possible. Surrounded by evildoers intent on doing evil, with seemingly no allies, no power, no hope of human help. Again, you and I may not have experienced this exactly, but we can certainly see that the very poor of the world, people living in conditions of severe injustice and violence and want may find this psalm very close indeed to their lives.
What is the prayer given here? It is instructive that first there is this cry of anguish—the wish that the Lord would cut off the lying lips of the proud and haughty who surround the person. Sometimes, in our perhaps slightly anemic version of religion, we can feel that this is all wrong, that we should be ‘nice’ to people always, that this is a remnant of some primitive blood and vengeance religion that isn’t quite proper for good religious people to pray.
Well, nonsense. Prayer is to be real, to be human, to really come out of what is really going on in the hearts and minds of real human beings, blood and guts, pain and anguish, joy and jubilation alike. It’s OK to scream when you are in agony, in other words. And this part of the psalm is simply a scream, a cry, something wrung out of poor soul who is deeply afflicted and oppressed and mistreated by the powerful who cheat and lie and oppress.
Of course it is right and proper to say ‘Lord, make them stop! Thwart them, defeat them, smash their wicked plans!’ Why on earth not?
But of course the psalm doesn’t end there—the psalms never end there, really. There is then this beautiful movement then towards faith, an almost violent wrenching of attention from these horrible people doing horrible things to the Lord who is faithful, the Lord who keeps his promises, the Lord who is rising up for his people.
This is real prayer in times of evil and deep injustice. A cry of pain, a true pouring out of our anguish before God, our urgent need for deliverance and help… and only then faith. Only then the knowledge that God is with us, and even if these evildoers do us in, do us to death, our lives are in the hands of the God who rises up, the God who arose from death and delivers us over to Life unending in the kingdom that knows no evil, no injustice, nothing false or foul. And that is the ultimate hope of humanity, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.