It’s Holy Week, a time of contemplation for me, as with many Christians. I find myself reading Psalms. It’s a delight to contemplate these songs offered to God. For some reason, I always associate them with morning devotionals. Maybe they go with my coffee even better than banana nut bread (because of course the psalms have no calories).
I love Psalms. But if you know them, you know they are not all rosy and cheerful. Certainly we go to the psalms when looking for encouragement:
But while replete with passages showing God’s love and faithfulness, the psalms are also full of man’s grief and lamentation. These ancient songs are filled with struggle. Struggle both in the world and in the spirit. And as with any struggle, there is aggression and there are enemies. I’ve had this trouble for years when reading Psalms. All the talk of enemies!
It isn’t subtle or hidden. Look at an example from Psalm 3:
Break the teeth of the wicked! Wow, that’s visceral language. These violent psalms were written thousands of years ago from a place of insecurity for the people of Israel, who had enemies all around. I, of course, understand that the nation of Israel was often at war and that even in the midst of the struggle, God was with them.
But ouch, “strike my enemies on the jaw.” That seems like disturbing imagery for my quiet devotional time. It’s incongruant with my “spirituality.”
Doesn’t Jesus invite me to turn the other cheek, not to strike a cheekbone or break anyone’s teeth? And while there is plenty of wickedness around (all I need to do is glance at my news feed to see it), I don’t keep an up-to-date list of enemies. I’ll always have people that I disagree with and who don’t like me, or I them, but the number of people I want to “break the teeth of” is less than zero. That’s just not my way of faith, in the admittedly comfortable time and place that God has put me as his witness.
Yet these difficult verses are not antiques. The psalms don’t contain legacy scripture that we can’t profitably use today. If I read about enemies and struggle over my coffee here in placid Northern Virginia, it’s because I do have enemies and face struggle.
It rose in my heart one morning recently as I read, “strike all my enemies on the jaw,” that I sure could use some of that strength and fierceness when I’m fighting my doubts, anxiety, and disappointments. What if I faced up to my real enemies (the forces that damage my life and happiness and connection to the Holy Spirit) with a bit of word replacement in this psalm? What if I understood it as,
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my [fears] on the jaw;
break the teeth of my [insecurities].”
Suddenly the psalms blow a fresh wind into my spirit: “For You, O God, have struck my fears, my self-doubt, my depression, my bad habits, my failings, my missteps, my pride on the cheekbone and have broken the teeth of my lack of trust in You.”
If I am mindful that I do have enemies and I stay aware of what they truly are, I can read Psalms as timeless scripture that has total relevance and connection with me right now.
So can you!
Pastor Jason Duley