Slow your breathing and become aware of the taking in and letting out of your breath. Focus on putting things aside so you will be open to what God is saying to you today.
Psalm 58 (NRSV)
Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?
Do you judge people fairly?
No, in your hearts you devise wrongs;
your hands deal out violence on earth.
The wicked go astray from the womb;
they err from their birth, speaking lies.
They have venom like the venom of a serpent,
like the deaf adder that stops its ear,
so that it does not hear the voice of charmers
or of the cunning enchanter.
O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!
Let them vanish like water that runs away;
like grass let them be trodden down and wither.
Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime;
like the untimely birth that never sees the sun.
Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!
The righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done;
they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.
People will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
surely there is a God who judges on earth.”
There’s nothing sweet about this psalm. It is angry, brutal, and troubling. We can understand it a bit better when we know that it was born in a brutal, troubling context where 95% of the population had no voice in government, no courts to turn to, nowhere to go when awful injustices were done to them. So, this writer turned to God. The disturbing words and images expose the psalmist’s suffering. Only someone who has experienced great pain and anger would want to “bathe in the blood of the wicked.”
The New Testament calls us to leave vengeance to God, which is exactly what the psalmist has done. She or he doesn’t set out to “break the teeth” of an enemy, but prays that God will do so. I don’t know if God did. What I do know is that the psalmist’s words are recorded in the Bible’s prayer book, which tells me that we are allowed, even invited, to bring our deepest suffering and the words arising from that suffering to God. God hears us whether we are polite and pious or troubled and brutal in response. Then, when we have prayed, we must leave justice to God.
Thank you, O God, for hearing us when our prayers are filled with joy and praise, and also when they express our pain and horror. We need not pretend to be polite and pious when we are outraged and hurting. The psalmist’s words remind us again that you accept us as we are. These words also call us to trust your response to injustice rather than seek vengeance ourselves. May we receive into our hearts all the teachings this painful psalm offers us. Amen.
Go with God.