1 O LORD, the God of vengeance, O righteous God, shine forth! 2 Arise, condemn the haughty, O Judge of all the earth.
3 How long will evildoers, O LORD, be jubilant? 4 They pour out wicked boasting; their words are arrogant.
5 O LORD, they crush your people, oppress your heritage; 6 The widow, stranger, orphan they murder in their rage.
7 They say, “God does not notice; the LORD has closed his eyes.” 8 Take heed, you senseless people; fools, when will you be wise?
9 Do you think the Creator, who gave mankind the ear And made the eye for seeing, can neither see nor hear?
10 Does he who guides the nations not punish them for wrong? To him who gives instruction does knowledge not belong?
11 All human thoughts are futile; to you, LORD, they are known. 12 You bless those with correction to whom your law is shown.
13 In troubled times you grant them relief from their distress, Until a pit is opened to punish wickedness.
14 The LORD will not abandon the folk who are his own; His heritage, his chosen, he never will disown.
15 For justice will be founded once more on righteousness, And all right-hearted people approval will express.
16 Who will arise to help me against the wicked one? Who will stand up to aid me when other help has gone?
17 Unless the LORD had helped me, I’d soon have passed away To dwell in death’s dark silence far from the light of day.
18 When I said, “LORD, I’m slipping,” your love came to my aid; 19 Your help gave joy and comfort when I was so afraid.
20 Can God accept a tyrant who issues harsh decrees, And brings upon his subjects oppressive miseries?
21 Against the righteous people the evildoers plot; To execute the guiltless, such is their wicked thought.
22 But as for me, my refuge is in the LORD Most High; God has become my fortress and on him I rely.
23 God will repay the wicked the evil they have done; The LORD our God will surely destroy them every one.
You can hear this sung to the tune Coleshill here.
Do you prefer a terrifyingly vengeful God or a pathetically unobservant one? Evil doers, the Psalmist suggests, rely on God’s eyes being closed to the many abuses suffered by the vulnerable, here represented by oppressed and murdered widows, strangers and orphans. The Psalmist, on the other hand, is confident that the LORD will live down to “his” well-known reputation for vengeance: “God will repay the wicked for the evil they have done; the LORD our God will destroy them every one.”
Some of the time, perhaps most of the time, I don’t want God to destroy anyone, not even evil doers. On other occasions, seeing what some people do to others, my blood boils and I’d lose little sleep if bad things happened to bad people.
My heart is willing but my capacity to exact vengeance is limited, so it’s a relief to put it all into someone else’s hands. But who will arise to help me against these wicked ones? Will it be the Psalmist’s God of vengeance or am I stuck with the evil doers’ hands-off, eyes-closed, emotionally detached deity?
It’s neither. For me, reading these verses with Christian eyes, God’s character is neither neglectful nor vengeful. God is very aware of the deeds of evil doers and the suffering of their victims. And yes, by way of a cross, God has arisen to help them against the wicked ones, not by vengeance but through destroying wickedness itself.
Will people who perpetrate evil survive the destruction of their wickedness? I don’t know. Can God’s passion for justice really be satisfied as well as God’s capacity for love? I don’t know. For now, I put my trust in God who sees and acts, though not necessarily in the ways I expect.
Thank you, God, That in Jesus we encounter you; Neither vengeful nor neglectful, But at work to rid this world of wickedness. Amen
The Rev’d Trevor Jamison, Minister, St Columba’s URC, North Shields.