Wednesday

The Cursing Psalms and dealing with enemies

For some reason, most of my tests throughout life have been with people who like to appear one way to my face and then turn around and stab me in the back. It's happened for years now and I hope that someday won't happen as much. Then again, however, maybe that's just the way people are. I hope I'm not that way.

As you can see, the numbers on my trust meter are low - my husband is a major exception.

I'm not trying to whine, really. I've learned a lot about people and I'm learning to become stronger as a person so that's all good. I'm also learning to separate those who have stabbed me in the back from those who have not so that I can build trusting relationships. That's just the way life is. You have to separate the good from the bad and follow what's right. Even Jesus had trust issues. John 2: 23 - 25 says:

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.

Do you remember a few weeks ago I wrote a post called "Praying the Psalms". In that post I wrote:

The benefit of praying this Psalm (in this case it was Psalm 119) daily to start would be in its repetitiveness. Some people believe that if we repeat something enough times, we'll actually begin to live and believe it. Also, it's a great way to store the Psalm within your memory. The Holy Spirit can then use portions of the Psalm to encourage you and others through you when needed.

The Holy Spirit also uses our daily prayer time as a time of encouragement. I try to read at least one Psalm a day and with recent circumstances, I felt prompted to read Psalm 109 even though I had read it the day before. The first paragraph jumped out at me:

My God, whom I praise,

do not remain silent,

for people who are wicked and deceitful

have opened their mouths against me;

they have spoken against me with lying tongues.

With words of hatred they surround me;

they attack me without cause.

In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.

They repay me evil for good,

and hatred for my friendship.

"God understands," I thought. "At least I'm not the only one who has had these problems."

Now being a student of the Bible, I know that I am not the only person who has problems, but sometimes I need gentle reminders that God truly sees what is going on. The words of this Psalm helped me to express what was going on inside. However, if you keep reading the same Psalm, you'll find:

Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;

let an accuser stand at his right hand.

When he is tried, let him be found guilty,

and may his prayers condemn him.
May his days be few;

may another take his place of leadership.

May his children be fatherless

and his wife a widow.
May his children be wandering beggars;

may they be driven from their ruined homes.
May a creditor seize all he has;

may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.

May no one extend kindness to him

or take pity on his fatherless children.

May his descendants be cut off,

their names blotted out from the next generation.

May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord;

may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.

 May their sins always remain before the Lord,
that he may blot out their name from the earth.

Whoa. "Okay," (nervous laugh), "don't do that, Lord. It's not that important."

Isn't it amazing that David, the man after God's own heart, or, if it wasn't David, some other holy person who had really connected with the Almighty, could write such things? But then again, as a human, that's a natural way to feel about an enemy, right?

Yes, definitely. But, no, uh ... maybe. But it isn't right! It's all so confusing. I thought we were supposed to love people. Why did the people who put the Bible together, people who were supposed to be holy and divinely inspired, advocate such words?

Perhaps it was because Jesus and the Holy Spirit had not arrived. The Psalms are pre-Messiah. The one who told us to turn the other cheek and pray for those who persecute us hadn't arrived. But that explanation is inadequate, as British writer C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, "Reflections on the Psalms." The Israelites knew God - Jesus' father - and there are plenty of references in the Old Testament that say that we are to love people. Lewis brought Leviticus 19, especially verse 17 and 18 to my attention. These verses reference the way the ancient Israelites were to treat others:

Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Then verses 33 and 34 of the same chapter say:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

In his chapter "The Cursings," Lewis wrote:

At the outset I felt sure, and I feel sure still, that we must not either try to explain them (the curses in the Psalms) or to yield for one moment to the idea that, because it comes in the Bible, all this vindictive hatred must somehow be good and pious. We must face both facts squarely. The hatred is there - festering, gloating, undisguised - and also we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify similar passions in ourselves (parenthesis without italics mine).

Lewis wrote that as he thought about the cursing Psalms, it occurred to him that the ancient Israelites were not socially restrained, as we are here in the West, against expressing hatred so violently:

"...their restraints came in different places. Hatred did not need to be disguised for the sake of social decorum or for fear anyone would accuse you of neurosis. We therefore see it in its 'wild' or natural condition."

Lewis also wrote that seeing this in scripture should cause us to examine our own hearts in order to find out if we harbor the same feelings. "We live - at least, in some countries we still live in - a milder age. These poets lived in a world of savage punishments, of massacre and violence, of blood sacrifice in all countries and human sacrifice in many. And, of course, too, we are far more subtle than they in disguising our ill will from others and from ourselves ..."

These poets are our brothers, Lewis said. And, it is true. I may not harbor seething resentment or hatred toward everyone who treats me adversely; however, if I do not keep ill feelings in check with the balm of forgiveness, they could grow to surprising depths over which I may not have control.

I suppose that is why Jesus told his followers to forgive seventy times seven times, or an infinite amount of times. He knew that we have problems, even repeated problems, with people. Forgiveness keeps us from hate. That is too why love was emphasized in the Old Testament passages we mentioned earlier. Because as Peter later wrote, "love covers a multitude of sins."

Forgiving someone continually, however, does not mean that we become their physical or emotional punching bag. In this case it's best to stay away from someone who hurts you continually. We just have to make sure that we are being honest. We can't stay away from people as an excuse to hide our resentment. If the situation can be healed then by all means try to make amends. On the other side though when someone chooses to continually hurt you, choose to forgive from a distance with a clear conscience. Praying the cursing Psalms may help free you from the emotional baggage some situations cause.

What do you think?