I think, if I’m honest, that I recognise this kind of prayer. I have prayed prayers like it, if not with explicit words, then with the bit of my unconscious self that sometimes makes itself known. The commentaries think this psalm is ambiguous – that we don’t know who is praying or what for exactly. But, however ambiguous or unknown the author, context or intention, I recognise this prayer. It’s the kind where we try to put ourselves on the right side with God. We tug at God’s sleeves and say something like ‘Listen to me… I pray every morning, like you say we should.’ And we plead with God to listen to us. We want to make sure God knows that we are on the side of goodness, unlike whoever it is who has awoken our fears or envy or anger. We remind God of the evil that God hates and of the people who do what God hates, and we repeat the assurance we want, that it is we (not them) who will receive God’s loving protection. As I read this psalm, I notice how it works its way inside me, and how familiar it feels. If I am loved, then there must be those who are not loved. If I am right then there must be those who are wrong. If I am hurting, or if someone is hurting me, then it must be that God will come and protect me, not them. How revealing the Bible is, how aware of the fragility of human souls like mine, and maybe yours.
But, reading the psalm, and resisting its voice, I find that I do not need God to hate anyone so that I can be assured, by contrast, that I am loved. I only need to know that I am beloved and that God listens, without needing me to grab attention or favour. God’s regard is simply granted, freely. I can relax into God’s love. That’s all I, or anyone, need.
God, thank you, for being there, even before I call upon you in the morning. Thank you for loving me, before I do anything, wherever I am and whatever is going on. Thank you for blessing me, before I’ve woken up, with no good deeds yet done and nothing to win your favour. Thank you, for such love. Give me grace to receive it and then to share it. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Susan Durber, World Council of Churches President from Europe, the Landsker Pastorate in Pembrokeshire