Even When It Hurts: March 25, 2021

Even When It Hurts -- Lent 2021 Devotional Book

Read: Psalm 139

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
-Psalm 139:7

Full disclosure: This is my favorite psalm. I was really surprised to find this on a list of psalms of lament because most of it seems like a psalm in which the psalmist is in awe of the presence of God. They are pondering how they could go to the ends of the earth, and yet God is there. They are marveling at how they were put together in their mother’s womb, which I find incredibly profound. I mean, this is the psalm I go to when I need to be reminded of God’s presence with me.

The problematic part comes in verse 19 when the psalmist takes a violent turn and talks about wishing the Lord would kill the wicked. Umm… OK… They then talk about hating those who hate the Lord (v. 21), and I find myself wanting to back away slowly while looking for all the possible exits out of this psalm. The psalmist talks about hating them (the wicked and people who hate God) with a perfect hatred (v.22), and I find myself pondering how exactly we went from a psalm expressing wonder and awe to hating people. The psalmist then returns to wanting God to search them and know their thoughts (v.23), and I start wondering what just happened here.

The issue, I think, is that the psalmist’s zeal for the Lord gets a bit out of hand in those four verses from 19-22, and they want to be part of the judgment on the wicked because they have perhaps been persecuted. Zeal is a wonderful thing, but it needs to be tempered and focused in a specific way lest it get out of hand and bad things happen. Those four verses are problematic for me, but I can see (mostly) how they could fit into the psalm. I hold them in tension with the wonder and awe expressed in the majority of the psalm, and I return to feeling like the psalm encircles me like a mantle of strength.

Thank you, Lord, for your presence in the world and the ability to wonder and ponder things. Amen.
-Jen McCabe