Monday, May 4, 2015

Responding to Mean Girls (and Guys)

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me!..
Say to my soul, “I am your salvation!”
Let them be put to shame and dishonour who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed who devise evil against me!
Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them away!..

But I, when they were sick—I wore sackcloth;
I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest.
I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother;
as one who laments his mother, I bowed down in mourning.

But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered; they gathered together against me;
wretches whom I did not know tore at me without ceasing;
like profane mockers at a feast, they gnash at me with their teeth.

How long, O Lord, will you look on?
 Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions!
I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you.
Let not those rejoice over me who are wrongfully my foes,
and let not those wink the eye who hate me without cause…

You have seen, O Lord; be not silent! O Lord, be not far from me!
Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication, for my cause, my God and my Lord!
Vindicate me, O Lord, my God, according to your righteousness,
and let them not rejoice over me!..

Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness
and of your praise all the day long.
Psalm 35

Reflection – The Monday Psalter has brought us to this psalm, not perhaps one of the top ten favourite psalms of all time (or the top fifty… or perhaps even the top hundred!). It is considerably longer than this—I have given excerpts to communicate the general sense of it.

So it is a psalm prayed by the one who is, simply, in big trouble. As always with the psalms, we don’t have any specific details, but this person is being attacked, maligned, reviled, mocked, generally hounded and harried. And we do see in the psalm the response of faith to that difficult and painful experience.

Thanks be to God, we don’t all constantly experience what this person is experiencing. But… it does happen, from time to time, doesn’t it? Sometimes it happens in a big way—we think of people like those poor pizza makers in Indiana who received death threats and cyber-abuse for simply expressing the same opinion about gay ‘marriage’ that is shared by most people in the world and was until about ten minutes ago the opinion of President Obama and Hilary Clinton, among others.

More often than not it is on a smaller scale—a hostile work environment, malicious gossip, that kind of thing. While we always hope for the best from human nature, and in fact most people most of the time are mostly trying to be sort of good (how’s that for a qualified endorsement of humanity!), let’s face it—sometimes people can be really mean to one another. The movie Mean Girls was not too far off from the mark in its depiction of petty and nasty behaviour (and, yes, there are mean guys aplenty as well).

And this psalm is, in a sense, about the faith response to this. The human tendency in the face of this kind of malicious thing—gossip, etc.—is to either defend oneself or to hit back twice as hard. 

Defending oneself against mean spirited gossip is a fool’s game, for the most part—the reality of gossip is that it is cowardly, only hitting at the person when his or her back is turned. Lashing back—getting twice as mean in response to the meanness, is always tempting, but of course does not exactly make the world a better place.

The faith response is, well, faith. Turning to the Lord for deliverance, for vindication, for help. Knowing oneself to be ultimately judged, not by the wagging tongues and malicious hearts of the worst people in the world, but by the merciful gaze and all-knowing Heart of the Father. Finding one’s life not in the approval of the crowd but in the love of the Trinity.

This, in our Christian praying of the psalm, is what all this ‘vindication’ talk is about. We may or may not experience justice in this world – there are no guarantees to that effect. And when human justice fails or falls short, when genuinely unfair, untrue, and unkind things happen to us, it is ultimately an invitation to lift our eyes to heaven and to the judgment seat of God, the final court of appeal, where the books are laid open and the truth of things are made known.

All of the psalms that come out of this terrible suffering of persecution, slander, and malicious plots of enemies are essentially ordered towards that basic response of faith, a response that all of us have to assume eventually, as there are few lives entirely free of this particular scourge. Eyes on the Lord, and a heart fixed on His justice and truth—that’s the path to a peaceful life no matter what gets thrown at us.

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