After Church: Trials, Anger, and Mystery

On the subject of yesterday and the darkness of the heart, let’s take another look at Psalm 58:

Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods?
Do you judge uprightly, O sons of men?
No, in heart you work unrighteousness;
On earth you weigh out the violence of your hands.
The wicked are estranged from the womb;
These who speak lies go astray from birth.
They have venom like the venom of a serpent;
Like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear,
So that it does not hear the voice of charmers,
Or a skillful caster of spells.

O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth;
Break out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord.
Let them flow away like water that runs off;
When he aims his arrows, let them be as headless shafts.
Let them be as a snail which melts away as it goes along,
Like the miscarriages of a woman which never see the sun.
Before your pots can feel the fire of thorns
He will sweep them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike.

10 The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 And men will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
Surely there is a God who judges on earth!”

I’ve heard much of the violence in the Bible, but I think there’s a human impulse to that end. There’s nothing new under the sun, after all; we will continue to fight, struggle, conflict, and argue until the end of time (and by that, I mean the eschatological “end of time”, not forever). These Psalms represent a particular impulse, but that’s OK! Every person has a desire for vengeance and revenge at some point in time. To keep that bundled inside isn’t healthy, nor helpful.

However, there’s a distinct difference here: the Psalmist asks GOD to take vengeance upon the enemy for his own personal grievance. With David, I suppose being chased by King Saul with an entire army for years on end could justify such words, but to make God do it? It sounds much more like a request. God will do it anyway, but prayer for the death of an enemy? Seems anthithetical to the Christian message anyway you look at it. Yet, here it is in a holy texts. Some might call it “embarrassing”, and I can certainly see why. It’s like the anger of a child, as Brueggemann might say.

Still, isn’t it weird that these tales of vengeance are in here? Other Psalms even blame God for their troubles, and demand that God take the Psalmist out of said vague predicament. I’ve seen a bunch of ideas and phrases in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament that look completely out of place in light of the Christian message. When James 1 says:

12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

and 1 Corinthians 10 raises a similar point:

13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to betempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

To take these two together, we’d have to say that God sends trials intentionally for some purpose. But neither endorse a view that says “ask God to get rid of the oppressor.” Rather, they tell us “endure”. What is God’s purpose in sending these hardships? Frankly, I don’t know. I could offer a humanistic explanantion of why God would want to bring us to such a place, or to incite anger in us against Him. Isn’t it a natural reaction in the face of a theistic worldview to get “angry” at God first and foremost? As for myself, I don’t. There’s a distinct reason why, however.

I find it hard to reconcile with the case of Job. Job seems like an obvious rebuttal to the idea of “God blesses you if you obey…always.” That’s a false narrative that fits in line with the “my life is a storybook” stereotype we’ve been handed in modern culture. Clearly, that wasn’t true in Job’s case; God lets Satan mess around with Job all to prove a point, apparently. Job, rightfully (I imagine) wants God to answer him, but Job doesn’t curse God and die. He just wants, straight up, a simple answer to “why does God make bad things happen to good people”, good people meaning “those who obey God”? Is Job angry? I would imagine so! You might be too if, for no reason whatsover your entire life’s work was completely destroyed and your family/friends/just about everyone you cared about was killed. Right?

And God’s answer? “I created the universe, and I’m powerful. Why should have to answer to you?” Certainly, he restores all of Job’s fortune that he had before the ordeal, but will things ever be the same? I wouldn’t imagine so. But you don’t get an explanation for why you shouldn’t be angry. He’s God, and you’re not. QED.

Great stuff, huh? All the theologians in the world couldn’t answer this questions because it has no answer. For all our wrangling with God’s true nature, we still can’t get why God does some things rather than others. Information is given, but not all of it. God reveals on a “need to know” basis, and never beyond. That’s disconcerting; I want to know everything, but I am not allowed to know everything. That’s a humbling idea. Job had the right idea, I think:

Then Job answered the Lord and said,

“I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
‘Hear, now, and I will speak;
I will ask You, and You instruct me.’
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You;
Therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes.”

To us, it looks like God is capricious, but who knows and who can fathom? That’s not an answer I want; that’s an answer I must accept when dealing with the Almighty.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.