I am spending the week preparing a sermon about why we sing songs when we gather to worship God. This meant I spent the week falling back in love with the great Hymn book of our faith, the Psalms.
The reason I love the Psalms is because they easily shatter any box we try to put the Scriptures into. if Scripture is God’s love letter to us, than what do we do with the 6th Psalm, which appears to be a love letter from us to God?
If the Bible is “Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth” than what do we do with the 72nd Psalm that seems to consist more in Basic Instructions for God while we live on Earth?
If the Bible is the grand narrative of God’s workings in the world (which admittedly I fall back on) then what do we do with the very 1st Psalm that doesn’t narrate anything but makes a simple and poetic comparison?
If Scripture is just meant to comfort us by God’s presence, why am I not comforted when I read the 120th Psalm which begins happy enough but ends in despair?
And if Scripture reveals to us a God of forgiveness and grace as opposed to a God of rules and laws, why is the 119th Psalm (the longest chapter in Scripture by the way) sing nothing but unashamed praises for God’s commandments?
Yet perhaps the Psalm that stands out the most is the 109th one. It is what we call a Psalm of Cursing where the writer/singer just doles out curses against his enemies while praying to God. Here are some of my favorite lines from this piece of art:
8 Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand. (We will taken evil guy over this guy!)
9 May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
10 May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven from their ruined homes.
11 May a creditor seize all he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
12 May no one extend kindness to him
or take pity on his fatherless children.
13 May his descendants be cut off,
their names blotted out from the next generation.
14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord;
may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
Now I must confess I have been angry at people a time or two in my life and maybe wished they would be fired from their jobs because they were lousy at them. However, I have never gone so far as to curse their grandparents, parents, spouse, children and grandchildren. They are singing, “God just do away with the whole lot!”
I used to work at a Rescue Mission and after reading this Psalm in chapel, a homeless man said, “Whoa, that guy is pissed!” And he is right. The writer of this song was pissed.
It is made more entertaining by the fact that although one person initially wrote it about one group of people, the ancient Israelites were so spiritually moved by it they decided to get together and sing it in their worship services. Could you imagine showing up at church one morning to hear your worship leader say, “We are returning to one of the ancient greats today but it will be new to some of you. It is hymn number 1-0-9. Once again that is 1-0-9. We are going to sing out the wonderful words, “Appoint someone evil oh God, appoint an evil man to accuse!” It kind of sound like a rap song actually!
But here is the thing, this man or men, or maybe even women, were hounding to death the poor and the needy. A God of compassion does not tolerate injustice towards the poor and needy. And maybe there is room in our worship services to name and reject and even curse the intolerant, unjust, wicked leaders of our day.
I don’t necessarily think God answers the prayer requests, especially the one ” to make his children wandering beggars.” In fact, I am very uncomfortable with a God that would answer that request. But I have no problem with a God who hears us when we pray our curses, who is on the side of the poor and needy and is working to remove from power those who “hound to death the brokenhearted.”
So I think there is room in our worship to be honest about our righteous anger towards those who refuse to be compassionate. Although I might not go so far as to write songs that curse them, I would leave room for those prayers and even scripted poems in the liturgy of our services. It seems a Psalm like this one has a role to play in aligning our hearts to beat with God’s compassion. And compassion has a dark side, which I call “wrath.” And that wrath is expressed towards those who refuse to show love and care for the least and lonely.
Until His Return.