1 You rulers, do you know what justice is? Among mankind do you judge uprightly? 2 No, you devise injustice in your hearts And on the earth you mete out cruelty.
3 Even from birth the wicked go astray And from the womb untruthfully they speak; Their wayward thoughts well up within their hearts And havoc with their lying words they wreak.
4 Their poison’s like the venom of a snake; They’re like a cobra that has closed its ear— 5 However great the charmer’s skill may be, It pays no heed because it does not hear.
6 Destroy, O God, the teeth within their mouths; LORD, smite the lion’s jaw a mighty blow. 7 Make them disperse as water flows away, And blunt their arrows when they draw the bow.
8 May they be like the snail that melts away, Or like a stillborn child that sees no sun. 9 Before a pot can boil on burning thorns, So swiftly shall the wicked be undone.
10 The just will tread the blood of wicked men; When they’re avenged, the righteous will be glad. 11 Then all will say, “The just have their reward Surely the judge of all the earth is God.”
The tune Song 24 is suggested for this Psalm – you can hear it here.
‘Is this any way to run a country? Is there an honest politician in the house?’ (The Message)
Whatever our political persuasion, we can probably all relate to a time when we have felt like that about either our own or another country’s government. Injustice rightly turns our stomach.
From this familiar starting point, Psalm 54 quickly becomes very disturbing. The Psalmists have no qualms about expressing their disgust in the strongest language, and demanding blood-thirsty retribution from God. This is an uncomfortable Psalm to sing!
To claim that anyone is wicked from birth, and to wish them born dead, is extreme and at odds with our calling to nurture precious new life. Surely this has no place in our worship, particularly all-age settings? Yet it is this raw honesty that makes this vital – to admit to ourselves and to God (who knows us better than we know ourselves) that we sometimes hate more deeply than we love. There is no ‘political correctness’ here. In being this honest we open ourselves up to being transformed by the loving presence of God who sends sun and rain on both the wicked and the righteous, and calls us to equally radical love. There is no place for injustice in the Kingdom – but equally no place for all-consuming hate.
The slime trail of slugs and snails is not them dissolving (wishful thinking by the Psalmist!). I used to wage a one-woman war – going out every evening to collect a couple of hundred (yes really!) from my garden to protect my tender plants. I became obsessed with destroying my enemy. Then I moved – and made my piece with my fellow creature who is both duck and hedgehog fodder and helpful decomposer of vegetation. May a shift in perspective help me to love my other enemies.
O God, give us the courage to face our deepest fears and emotion, give us safe places to express the ugliest of our thoughts, give us grace to receive your love, and give us an abundance of love – enough for even our enemies that we might pray for those who persecute us and others and find ways bless all your children. Amen
Dr Sam Richards is the URC’s Head of Children’s and Youth Work and a member of mayBe community, Oxford
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