December 12, 2016
Another not-so-well-known psalm. And in this one I do not find any familiar verse. Nothing that is committed to memory or the basis for a hymn. And this psalm includes some of what CS Lewis referred to as “the cursings.” This is problematic for the Christian, for we are admonished not to seek or lust for revenge. And here we see the psalmist begging God to bring judgement against the wrongdoers. :
Draw me not away with the wicked, and with the workers of iniquity,
which speak peace to their neighbours, but mischief is in their hearts.
4 Give them according to their deeds,
and according to the wickedness of their endeavours:
give them after the work of their hands;
render to them their desert.
5 Because they regard not the works of the Lord,
nor the operation of his hands,
he shall destroy them, and not build them up.
Lewis treats this dynamic – which rears its head again and again in the psalms – quite fully in his book Reflections on The Psalms. I won’t try to even summarize his arguments here (they are – like everything else Lewis writes – excellent) except to say that he notes that this lust for vengeance and punishment of the enemy does not show up in the literature of other ancient cultures. Lewis opines that this may be because the Hebrews saw wrongdoing not only as a sin against themselves, but against a holy God.
So much for that. What now can we take away from this psalm? Where might it help to mold our hearts and minds? Well, this, maybe: this psalm, like so many of the others, is a cry out to God:
Unto thee will I cry, O Lord my rock;
be not silent to me:
lest, if thou be silent to me,
I become like them that go down into the pit.
2 Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee,
when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.
There are so many assumptions in such an effort. One, of course, is that God does exist and that He may be prevailed upon. That He may be petitioned. That He may listen to the cries of humanity.
Another, related point is this: the need to cry out is a universal, human need. None of us are fully, finally satisfied. All of us are needy, restless, and often in trouble. We moderns may be willing to admit that, but our impulse – fanned and heated by the advertisers – is to try to find satisfaction and rest and peace through individual achievement and through the acquisition of things. The message of this psalm and the teaching of the church through the centuries is contrary to the modern impulse and was summed up beautifully by Augustine:
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
And Blaise Pascal:
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself” (148/428).