Monday, June 18, 2012

Who's the real enemy here?

Psalm 5:8-12 (NIV)

Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness
   because of my enemies—
   make your way straight before me.
Not a word from their mouth can be trusted;
   their heart is filled with malice.
Their throat is an open grave;
   with their tongues they tell lies.
Declare them guilty, O God!
   Let their intrigues be their downfall.
Banish them for their many sins,
   for they have rebelled against you.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
   let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
   that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
   you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
So here’s a recurring theme for me when I read certain Psalms. There’s a verse or two with a wonderful message of either the Lord’s protection or goodness or peacefulness or any number of Godly qualities, the kind of qualities I want to emulate and model for my kids. But then they’re followed up by a plea from the Psalmist for God to smite enemies or destroy the wicked and generally use Godly power to wreak untold havoc. And while I don’t question God’s intent to render a final judgment, I also can’t identify with these parts of otherwise meaningful Psalms.

I mean, I want desperately to be led by the Lord in righteousness. But I don’t feel as if I have any enemies, at least not in the sense they are presented in the passage above.

Surely there are worldly things that pave the road to sinful behavior, but the act of sin is a weakness and failure on my part. I do not in any way feel persecuted. I don’t encounter anyone who makes me think I can’t trust a word they speak. I’ve never once looked at another person and thought “their throat is an open grave,” though from a literary standpoint that is one killer metaphor.

In previous jobs I have worked with people who proved unworthy of trust, but to me that was just a professional relationship — I never considered it an assault on my eternal soul. And since I was able to see work as just a component of life, I don’t recall spending a lot of personal time fretting over my office “enemies.” Surely I am beyond lucky in my professional life today to not even have that minimal conflict, but even if I did still butt heads with people on occasion, I would not be asking God to declare them guilty.

I’m no theologian (and a few college professors and classmates would happily attest to that), but perhaps the way I’m suppose to take Psalms like this is not to put myself in the shoes of the author, but to realize how often I put myself in the shoes of his oppressor.

My heart has swelled with malice. With my tongue, I have told lies. My intrigues have and probably still could become my downfall. Rather than pray for God to protect me against such people, perhaps I should pray for God to protect me from becoming such a person. I want to take refuge in the Lord, to ever sing for joy. I do not want to be banished for my many sins. Though surely I deserve it, I also believe in Jesus’ sacrifice on my behalf.

I am reminded of the quote “We have met the enemy… and he is us,” (which I did not know, until a recent Google search, came about as part of an Earth Day campaign in 1970). I am most certainly my own worst enemy. As I struggle to be one of the blessed righteous surrounded by God’s favor, I must accept I will never be righteous — at least not on my own in this life.

So going forward, I think I will look at Psalms such as this as a metaphor for the struggling inside myself — the desire to be seen as worthy in the Lord’s sight, the acceptance of all the reasons why I am not worthy and the amazing grace of God to bring me back into the fold despite my broken humanity.

As for my kids — (we know Jack feels he has enemies, though I would imagine most grade school students probably feel the same to some degree) — it is going to be important for me to teach them accountability for their own actions, that yes, God will forgive them when they fall, but to underscore the responsibility each of them has in keeping from falling in the first place. If something has come between a person and God, it most certainly a human construct — because God won’t move away from us.

Also from this Psalm comes the brief song my home church used for years (and still occasionally) as the congregational response to the benediction. Such a simple song and an elegant prayer. I really ought to keep it in my repertoire.
Lead me, Lord, lead me in they righteousness;
Make they way plain before my face.
For it is thou, Lord, thou, Lord only,
That makest me dwell in safety.
A prayer for June 18:

Lord, I ask you to open my eyes and my heart to see the ways you are leading me along the path of righteousness. I realize the many blocks I have put in the way and pray for your help in clearing the way. I thank you for revealing to me the traps I fall into, the sin I bring upon myself and the hurt it causes. Please help me correct these issues, to be mindful of my failings that I might not repeat them. Forgive me my sins, which are many. It is you, only, who will keep me and my family truly safe. Amen.

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