If you’ve never gotten beyond “The Lord is my shepherd” in the Psalms, then you haven’t really lived. A number of the entries, including a fair number that Penny and I have been reading as we go to bed, are anything but nice Sunday-School fare. Last night, Psalm 55 came up. The section heading in the CSB gets us in the right mood: “Betrayal by a Friend.”
And what kind, soothing words does David have for this treacherous friend? Try these on:
My friend acts violently
against those at peace with him;
he violates his covenant.
His buttery words are smooth,
but war is in his heart.
His words are softer than oil,
but they are drawn swords.
We might think that buttery words sound delicious, but they’re not. They hurt!
The outcome that David prays for in this situation is pretty intense as well.
Let death take them by surprise;
let them go down to Sheol alive,
because evil is in their homes and within them.
Essentially, that is David asking for his enemy, who jumped from singular to plural without warning, to be sent to hell while still alive. There’s no “turn the other cheek” stuff going on here. Do you like to pray through Psalms? Good luck on this one!
So what is going on in a Psalm like this? What can we learn from it? I think we can learn that David (or whoever wrote any particular Psalm) was a human being. He had strong feelings of anger and betrayal. As much as we might like to cover up our emotions, as much as we might try to look like pious bits of perfection fit for a spot near the manger in a nativity scene, we aren’t. We have these feelings. We want revenge or justice or something along those lines.
Do we allow those feelings to show in our prayers in front of our friends? Probably not, but we can, as these Psalms demonstrate, let them show to our one perfect Friend. And in the process of allowing those feelings to show, we can allow God’s Spirit to work on us and to change our heart. We can be taken from profound fear and anger to a spirit of calm and worship, as in Psalm 55:22:
Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
Granted, the next verse takes us back to some fairly angry-sounding material, but we do get the sense that the Psalmist is moving himself back into a balanced place. It doesn’t come all at once, but he was, after all, a human being.