Watching the World Burn
People gravitate toward the Psalms because of their complete and utter realness. I was taught that if I didn’t have anything nice to say…then don’t say anything. The psalmist doesn’t follow such motherly advice. Instead, the psalmist lets his fury fly.
There’s a scene in The Dark Night when Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) is trying to understand the Joker’s motivation. Alfred (played by Michael Cane) shares a story about trying to negotiate with tribal leaders in Burma with precious stones. However, a bandit kept stealing the stones. When they went looking for the bandit and the stones, they discovered the bandit had been throwing the stones away.
Wayne asks, “Why steal them?”
Alfred responds that some men aren’t looking for anything logical, such as money. “Some men,” he continues, “just want to watch the world burn.”
I wonder if the psalmist had to contend with such individuals. As I read through this psalm, my first world contemporary sensibilities keep me from fully entering into the psalmist emotions. I have been taught to be nice, not hate, and not seek revenge. But I’ve been protected from heinous acts. Perhaps if I wasn’t so protected, I would understand this psalm at a deeper level. I wonder how I would feel, if my enemies were wanting to watch the world burn…or me be destroyed.
Hope for the Powerless
The psalmist paints his enemies in the most horrific light, describing them as snakes with poisonous intentions from birth. Their ears are stopped up so they can’t hear anyone trying to “charm” them. The psalmist has nothing good or redemptive to say about his enemies or their intentions.
His enemies aren’t those who can be reasoned with or “won over” to his side. No. Like the Joker in the Dark Night, they simply want to see the world burn or, at the very least, the psalmist destroyed. Their hands “deal out violence.” For lesser individuals the violence might be minimized, but these leaders are like “gods.”
Where can one go when dealing with such individuals? Most are powerless against such “gods.” The psalmist turns to God and asks for God to destroy them. He trusts that God will respond and destroy the destroyers.
When the psalmist addresses God, he lets his fury fly, asking God to punish them, by breaking their teeth and making them vanish. Perhaps the most telling statements are when he asks God to make them dissolve like snails or be like an aborted birth. These statements reveal the depth of his hatred and desire for the demise of his enemies.
Will there be sadness when God destroys these leaders? Not at all. There will be celebration. The psalmist will celebrate their demise. He writes that the righteous will rejoice and bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked. Wow. Those are some very strong words and descriptive images revealing the depth of the psalmists disgust.
The Way of Jesus
I wonder if my attitude toward enemies should be different today. While I have been shielded from much evil, I can understand the psalmist’s feelings. There are those who I have labeled as evil, wicked, and unjust. I would love to see them stopped. There have been times when I have celebrated, internally, other’s comeuppance.
Jesus, I believe, offers a different way. While we can acknowledge that we may feel like the psalmist, especially when we see the destruction the wicked bring, Jesus offered grace to his enemies. Even those times when he displayed anger, his anger, it seems, didn’t result in wanting to see his enemies destroyed, but the desire to see them healed.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he asked God to forgive those who put him there because they didn’t know what they were doing. I’ve reflected on Jesus’ prayer many times. “Father forgive them…for they know not what they are doing…” I wonder if people become wicked simply out of ignorance. They really DON’T know what they are doing. They believe violence and destruction will bring them what they want, but in the end they discover they are still empty which feeds their emptiness.
I wonder if the wicked just can’t figure out any other way. They’ve been sold a solution, but the solution will not give them the results they desire.
A Better Place
Should I celebrate the destruction of the wicked? I know I’ll be glad when justice rolls like a river. God, however, seems to desire the redemption of all, even the wicked (1 Timothy 2:4). The best way isn’t that the wicked be destroyed, but healed, finding hope, and peace.
Where does that leave me with the Psalm? The Psalm reminds me that I can be honest with my feelings. When evil surrounds me, I will naturally begin right where the psalmist begins. My emotions are my emotions, but I don’t have to stay at that dark place. I might start there, but I don’t have to end there. Jesus’ love, grace, and forgiveness, enables and empowers me to move to a better place. Through Jesus, I can move to a place that reflects his desire and example of forgiveness and redemption. Who knows, perhaps I can even be an instrument of God’s redemption to those bent on destruction.