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Arise, Yahweh! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. (Ps. 3:7)
Rise up, Yahweh, confront them, bring them down; with Your sword rescue me from the wicked. By Your hand save me from such people, Yahweh, from those of this world whose reward is in this life. May what You have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies; may their children gorge themselves on it, and may there be leftovers for their little ones. (Ps. 17:13-14)
Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the realm of the dead, for evil finds lodging among them. (Ps. 55:15)
Today Christians like to talk about the beauty of the book of Psalms. But in real life, there is an ugly theme of hatred woven throughout this book which results in a very polluted product. Certainly the parts where God is being praised are very positive. But this business about ordering God to wipe out one’s personal enemies on earth is just carnality run amuck.
Revenge was a strong cultural value for ancient Jews. They celebrated it, they wrote about it, and they took great care to preserve collections of really good hate songs for future generations. All humans thirst for revenge at one time or another—this is hardly a desire that is limited to the ancient Jews. But the fact that you’re taught to never question anything you read in the Bible leaves you wide open to run amuck with passages like the ones we cited above. All three of these psalms were written by David—a fellow who Yahweh called “a man after My own heart.” David was very pleasing to God because he sincerely cared about God in his soul, but pleasing God is not the same as being perfect. A two-year-old can be very pleasing to his parents, but that doesn’t mean they think the child is all grown up. Every human has blind spots and areas in which they are very immature.
Responding to earthly enemies was an area that David was very immature in. As we read through his hate songs, we find a consistent theme of David writing off everyone who bothers him as evil, while simultaneously whitewashing himself as perfect. According to David, he is usually just an innocent victim when his bullies come around.
Since they hid their net for me without cause and without cause dug a pit for me, may ruin overtake them by surprise—may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin! (Ps. 35:7-8)
What exactly do we mean when we complain that people have hurt us unjustly? We mean that in the present situation, we see no reason why this particular person should be picking on us. Well, since when do we get to judge based on such narrow parameters of time? How about we step back and look at the whole picture. Okay, maybe you haven’t personally done anything to Tom, but are you really going to say that you’ve never treated anyone unfairly? In real life we’re all guilty of acting like jerks and being mean to others. In real life, we often get away with being nasty to others without experiencing any immediate consequences. We crush feelings and walk away unscathed. We break hearts and scoff. We slander others without getting slandered in return. But though we get away with all of these crimes, we actually have the gall to complain when someone sticks it to us further down the line. We say there is no justification for us to be persecuted, when in reality there is plenty of justification. We love to apply the old “what goes around comes around” principle to others, but why do we think the same principle shouldn’t apply to us?
The reality is that we do deserve to be sinned against in this world because we have all sinned against others. But this isn’t how we like to think. When our enemy falls on hard times, we say, “Ha! Serves you right after what you did to me five years ago!” But when someone sticks it to us, we say, “Hey! Not fair! What did I ever do to you?” We keep a mental tally of the sins of others while we keep wiping our own slate clean. It’s a very hypocritical system, yet it is classic human behavior. Listen to this bit of doubletalk that David dishes out here:
I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.
Many have become my enemies without cause; those who hate me without reason are numerous. Those who repay my good with evil lodge accusations against me, though I seek only to do what is good. (Ps. 38:17-20)
First David admits to having sinned, then he whitewashes himself by saying he only longs to do good. He says there is no cause for anyone to come against him—how can this be true if he has done wrong to others?
It is a refusal to face the depths of our own depravity that causes us to feel justified in condemning others. What have any of us done to deserve to spend eternity in Heaven? What have any of us done to earn the forgiveness of God? The definition of grace is undeserved favor. All of the mercy, kindness, and forgiveness God has given us is undeserved yet we have the gall to pray that He withholds these same things from others.
Suppose a rich man gives you a million dollars just because he enjoys being generous. One day the two of you are walking down the street together and you come across a person who you personally dislike. The rich man says, “I’m going to give him a million dollars as well.” But then you say, “Yuck! No! He doesn’t deserve anything good! I think you should gun him down instead!” How inappropriate is it for you to act so miserly after you’ve been so richly blessed? Is it your place to tell the rich man what to do with his own money? Not hardly.
When we pray against our enemies, we’re being nasty little hypocrites who are trying to control God’s behavior at the same time as we conveniently forget that we are just as bad as the next fellow. Whether you want to talk about external behaviors or internal motivations, God could fill a book with all the wicked things you’ve done. This means that none of us are in a position to look down our noses at anyone else. None of us are in a position to try and barricade the doors of Heaven so that our enemies can’t experience the same undeserved favor that we have received.
So if we shouldn’t be praying against our enemies, does that mean we should be praying for them? No, that’s not right either. When we pray for our enemies we’re still trying to tell God what to do in someone else’s life. Before He educates us about better ways to pray, the Holy Spirit will sometimes tell us to pray for our enemies because He knows that it will erode the intensity of our hatred if we’re sincerely well-wishing someone. But at some point we need to move away from the whole concept of trying to manage how God handles others and pull the focus back onto our own walks. God brings enemies into our lives in order to teach us valuable lessons. It is those lessons that we need to be focused on, not on what our enemies are doing.
In the Church today, you’re taught to obsess over middlemen. When something goes wrong, you are supposed to get mad at demons or at people instead of seeing them as the mere channels that they are. It is God who is ultimately responsible for everything that happens to you. It is God who brings antagonists into your life, and that means God is the One you need to be responding to. To stay mad at humans is not only a waste of time, it is guaranteed to turn you into the very thing you hate. Someone makes a rude crack, and what do you do? You are rude back. You say your rudeness was justified because they were rude first, but in the end, how are you any different from them? You’re both being rude. Or suppose some white guy says “All black guys are idiots.” You retaliate by saying, “All white guys are bigots.” What now? You’re both condemning large masses of people based on the irrelevant detail of skin color. Hate causes us to imitate the behaviors, attitudes and actions of those we find so offensive until we’ve turned into their clones. At that point, we sound pretty ridiculous going around talking about how justified we are in condemning them, for in condemning them we condemn ourselves because we are acting just like them.
When someone wrongs you, you need to ask God to help you learn the positive lesson He wants to teach you. Every trial is an opportunity to move forward in your own walk with God. You need to realize that you have options. You don’t have to just sink to the same low level as your antagonist. You don’t have to get stuck in pointless grudges. You can choose to look beyond the human and see God’s hand at work in your life. You can choose to focus on the fact that God is for you and He is always going to lead you down paths that are good for your soul. To be able to forgive and forget makes for a much happier life, but we don’t get there overnight. It takes a lot of coaching from the Holy Spirit to learn how to change the way we view people. But He will get us there if we are willing to submit to His program. God’s ways are always better than ours.