One of the hardest things to do, it seems, is to consider the other side, or an alternative view. Self-preservation is a basic instinct, and when we are being personally attacked, it’s hard to consider that something else, other than the opinion we have formed, might be the case. And, being open to an alternative view is most difficult when we are being personally attacked. So we have David, again in Psalm 64, on the defensive, feeling persecuted by those with sharp tongues who shoot their vile, arrow-sharp, bitter words at the blameless (David is always the innocent one) and do so without fear (verses 3-4). He claims that they further escalate things through banding together, scheming and vile-talk (verses 5-6).
David has fallen into the trap of seeing the world as black-or-white, either-or, good guys vs. bad guys. In David’s dualistic world, God will deal with the bad guys (they will get their just desserts we are told in verses 7-8) and God will ensure that everything will be a happy dance for the good guys (verse 10).
If only …
These descriptions are so on point with much of what is seen today in the news and on social media. Can’t you just see folks moving into two camps on any given issue and shooting their vile, arrow-sharp, bitter words at each other? Where are the voices of the peacemakers, of those who hold strong opinions but are still willing to listen to and be fully present for the “other” and to seriously consider that another way might also be valid?
This psalm provides us a good example of how a mystic approaches the Bible. A literal approach assumes God will always shoot, wound and cause-to-stumble all of our enemies, and that we, the “righteous ones,” will always be glad. But, we all know that bad things happen to people who have spent their lifetimes acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly. And we also know people who have committed atrocities against humanity who die without ever having been held accountable.
So, what else might this scripture be calling us to? Rather than skip over these difficult passages, I suggest that we approach them with an attitude of what might there be that God wants to reveal to us. Here are some questions that surface for me from this Psalm:
- How do I hear God’s voice? (v1)
- What does preservation of my life look like and where might God be in that work? (v1)
- Have I tended to hide when life gets difficult? (v2) How might God help me work through my avoidance issues? Have I asked for God’s help? Am I avoiding God? If so, what is that about?
- How have I been wounded by vicious and bitter words? Where might God have been in that experience? Could I have missed that God was there, with me? How can I be more aware of God’s presence when this happens again, because I know it will?
- What is causing me to dwell on those who do not agree with me, to rehash their words, to spiral down to anger by dwelling on their negative activities and hurtful ways? (v5-6) Why am I driven to knee-jerk responses without first considering that there might be another way, or without at least seeking God’s presence in my painful experience?
- What might be behind my need for the “other” to hurt as much as I am hurting? Have I sought God for the answer to this question? Am I brave enough to ask God to show me what is behind my fear?
- What does it mean to be glad? (v10) What would that look like for me? Have I been aware of God’s part in that gladness and expressed thanks, or did I take all the credit? If the latter, have I repented of my arrogance?