Despite David’s outburst of praise in the first verses of Psalm 9 and his reverting to the “prophetic perfect” along with other words of faith concerning God and his ways, I am also aware that Psalm 9 isn’t all positive. In fact, he finishes with a heartfelt cry to God to “Arise…let the nations be judged…strike them with terror…let the nations know they are but men.” (9:19-20)
But even this is pretty tame as compared to the second part of this “fascinating two-part poem”. As we read Psalm 10 we could be excused for wondering if David had just eaten too many lemons! He certainly was not happy with his present situation (due to the arrogance of his enemies) and typical of a Prayer (or Lament) psalm, he lets God know all about it.
As you read though, he does seem to have good reasons for feeling unhappy about things. He describes his experience of a type of humanity that sadly has all too often dominated history, and those not only confined to a few ethnic groups. You name any nation in history (past and present) and they will usually have had their fair share of evil and brutal people similar to the ones described by David in this psalm. People that are arrogant (v 2), proud and greedy with no thought of God (vs 3-4), self-deluded (v 6), liars and manipulators (v 7), murderers (v 8), bullies who take advantage of the vulnerable and care nothing for justice and so trap, crush and annihilate their victims (vs 9-10), and people who consider that accountability to God is a laughing matter (v 11).
In our own day little has changed. I read recently that “It is estimated that some 200 million evangelicals in over 35 countries are suffering persecution for their faith.” (SU notes) Only recently on the news, reporting on the influx of refugees into Europe from North Africa and the Middle East, a young Christian man from Libya was interviewed and when asked what would be his fate if he had stayed home, he replied “I would be killed because of my faith.”
So, in the face of such wickedness surrounding him and his people, David cries out to his God whom he knows abhors such evil. He asks:
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (v 1 NIV)
The Passion Version puts it this way:
“Lord, you seem so far away when evil is near! Why do you stand so far off as though you don’t care?”
Maybe you are thinking that this type of prayer language was ok for David back then, but should we as Christians really talk to God like this? I mean doesn’t Peter say in his first letter to the persecuted church of the 1st Century:
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13 NIV)
In line with Peter’s words, Dietrich Bonhoeffer even describes suffering for the sake of Christ as “the badge of true discipleship”. (D Bonhoeffer The Cost of Discipleship Simon and Schuster 1995)
As true as all this is, it seems though that there is still a case for an honest and open (and faith-filled) approach to God when pain and suffering abounds, either our own or that of others around us. I think Peter alluded to this when he quoted words similar to Psalm 55:22,
“Cast all your anxiety [or cares] on Him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
When trials come, certainly as believers we should not be surprised (if we have read and believed our Bibles), and joy is a gift of God available in the midst of the world’s chaos (maybe part of what the psalmist speaks of when he says “he will sustain you” Psalm 55:22). But we are able to talk honestly to God about these things. We don’t just have to grit our teeth and endure, while maybe deep down becoming resentful and bitter! And just how we can to talk to God we can learn from the psalms.
Paul Bradbury says:
“…we [in the church] have lost the ability to lament…We have lost a critical ability in our language of faith expression to articulate anything of integrity and truth in the context of suffering and tragedy…” (see references # 21)
Walter Brueggemann also suggests:
“…in a society that engages in great denial and grows numb by avoidance and denial, it is important to recover and use [lament] psalms that speak the truth about us.” (see references # 2)
But please note, the words of the psalmists are always based on their faith in God. They are not the rantings and ravings of an unbeliever, but rather are like the words of a child to his/her parent expressing his/her feelings and concerns to one he/she knows understands and cares and won’t be intimidated or offended.
So the same person who wrote, “listen to my prayer, O God…my thoughts trouble me…My heart is in anguish…Fear and trembling have beset me…” (Psalm 55:1-5), later wrote, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you” (55:22) and finally concluded, “But as for me, I trust in you” (55:23)
Father, despite his enemies, David concludes in faith that “The Lord is King for ever and ever” and that “You hear…the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed.” (Psalm 10:16-18). I am reminded of Paul who also said, “Praise be to…God…the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles…” (2 Cor. 1:3) and later reminded us that his trials “happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God…” (2 Cor. 1:9). So, hear our prayer to you this day, we cast our cares on you, we rely on you, we trust in you. Amen.