Tag Archives: Justice

Justice Then and Now

Justice Then and Now (CaD Jos 20) Wayfarer

Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood.
Joshua 20:1-3 (NIV)

Some of our most epic stories have ridiculously high body counts. I’ve had the joy of seeing many of Shakespeare’s plays produced on stage. His tragedies, in particular (e.g. Hamlet, Macbeth) end with seemingly everyone in the play dead. The same with the feuding Capulets and Montagues in Romeo and Juliet. The same is true in more modern epics like the Godfather trilogy in which warring families endlessly kill one another. Game of Thrones also found creative and nasty ways to rack up the body counts. Even the climactic final chapters of Harry Potter contained the death of some of my most beloved characters.

Throughout history, our epic stories are reflections of our humanity, complete with its deepest flaws and tragic ends. Ever since Abel’s blood cried out, murder, death, and vengeance have been a part of human tragedies.

In today’s chapter, God reminds Joshua of a rudimentary system of justice outlined in the law of Moses. Knowing that tragic deaths could often result in violent, systemic, and generational blood feuds between families, clans, and tribes, Cities of Refuge were designated. If a tragic death occurred unintentionally yet a person was accused of murder, the accused could flee to one of these cities of refuge. The town protected the accused from acts of vengeance until a trial could be held by the tribal assembly and a verdict rendered. It was rudimentary, but it provided a time-out so that hot tempers could cool off and vengeance could be stalled in order for justice to be carried out.

As a student of history, I have often read about the historical implications that the Law of Moses had on humanity. It’s the recognized seminal code of law on which our own system of justice is built. No human system of justice is perfect, just as no human system of government is perfect. But in the story of the Hebrews, I see God prescribing a huge step forward toward a more just society.

So what does this have to do with me here in my 21st-century life journey? First of all, I’m grateful to have very little need for a justice system thus far on my life journey. I am blessed to have lived what amounts to a relatively peaceful life. I take that for granted sometimes, and so I whisper a prayer of gratitude in the quiet this morning.

I also recognize as I meditate on the chapter that justice is more pervasive in the human experience than the weighty matters of manslaughter and capital murder. Justice is a part of every human relationship and interaction. As a follower of Jesus, I can’t ignore that He calls me to be just, generous, loving, and merciful in every relationship. Jesus taught that In God’s kingdom:

  • Cursing another person is as serious as murder.
  • Lust is as serious as adultery.
  • I shouldn’t worship God if I’ve got an interpersonal human conflict that needs to be resolved.
  • I am to forgive, as I have been forgiven, and then keep forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, as and when necessary.
  • When cursed by others, I am to return blessings.
  • When asked for a favor, I am to go above and beyond what was asked.
  • As far as I am able, I am to live at peace with every person in my circles of community and influence.

And this is not an exhaustive list. It’s just a top-of-mind list that came to me in the quiet.

And so I enter another day in the journey, endeavoring to be a person of love, mercy, generosity, and justice in a world that has always desperately needed it at every level.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Mob Justice

Mob Justice (CaD Matt 27) Wayfarer

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
Matthew 27:20 (NIV)

Wendy and I are creatures of habit. We typically begin each day perusing the news on our iPads as we drink our blueberry spinach smoothies (mine sweet, hers sour) and drink coffee. Quite often we remind one another of a truth that one of her favorite professors at Central College branded into her brain: “You only see what the camera wants you to see.”

News media loves to cover crowds of protestors and mobs rioting, especially if there’s destruction or violence. “If it bleeds it leads” as they say. However, even mobs and protestors can be created for visual, social, and political effects.

Most of us never think about it, but it is no secret that mobs can be bought. The BBC did a story about man in Pakistan who does it for a living. “Gathering a mob – what’s so difficult about that?” he says. “One phone call and a hundred people will come, they can throw stones till nothing is left and if that doesn’t work, it costs very little to buy 10 litres of petrol and set things on fire.” And according to the L.A. Times there’s even a firm in Beverly Hills which will organize a protest for you, though I’m guessing it might cost you a little more than in Pakistan. We’re talking Beverly Hills, after all. There’s also an interesting article in Cracked providing a first-person account of a professional protestor.

For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the final week of Jesus’ life is the contrast of the crowd shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” on Sunday, and the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” on Friday morning. The longer I’ve studied the text, the more convinced I am that the mob shouting for Jesus’ execution was no accident.

The chief priests and elders had already broken a number of their own laws by the early morning hours that they brought Jesus to the Roman Governor, Pilate. Hebrew jurisprudence held that you couldn’t arrest anyone in the dark of night, nor could you have a trial at night. The verdict was already decided by the time they held the third session of their kangaroo court as dawn was breaking because it was required that you could only sentence someone to death in the light of day.

The religious power brokers were in a hurry to get the deed done. Friday at dusk was not only the beginning of their precious weekly Sabbath, but it was also Passover week. The rushed, clandestine mockery of justice was necessary to have Jesus hanging on a cross as quickly as possible and to ensure it was a done deal before the Passover crowds who’d been singing Jesus’ praises had finished their breakfast and made their way to the Temple. These were powerful, wealthy, and politically connected men who were running the Temple racket. They would have left nothing to chance. They’d already drummed up false witnesses in the middle of the night to testify against. Jesus. It’s likely they knew how to make a small investment of shekels to hire a mob to ensure Pilate perceived that executing Jesus was the politically shrewd call.

In the quiet this morning, I think about our daily breakfast conversations and perusal of the news. One of the things I’ve observed since the dawn of the internet is how quickly things can trend before any facts are known. Not only do we “see only what the camera wants us to see” but increasingly I realize that algorithms ensure “I only see what I want to see.” People are accused, tried, convicted, and executed in the internet court of public opinion in no time at all. Never have I found Jesus’ instruction to His disciples so apt when He sent them out into the world by themselves: “Be shrewd as a serpent, gentle as a dove.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Smack-Talk

Where now is the lions’ den,
    the place where they fed their young,
where the lion and lioness went,
    and the cubs, with nothing to fear?
Nahum 2:11 (NIV)

When I was a younger man, I enjoyed being part of groups of friends who would compete in on-line pools in which we tried to pick which teams would win each week. I listened to a lot of sports radio while I was on the road. But, I grew weary of the constant braggadocio, belittling of others, and never-ending “smack-talk” in which people played this kind of verbal “king of the mountain.” They would gloat over the fans of the teams they hate, until the tables turned and the gloating went the other way. It was stupid. So, I still enjoy being a fan of my favorite teams, and I find it fun to casually follow them. Otherwise, I try to avoid the world in which sports is taken seriously.

That sub-culture of smack-talk in sports came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter because Nahum’s entire prophetic poem is an ancient version of talking smack against his people’s greatest enemy, Assyria. Choose your favorite sport, Assyria was the big-market dynasty that never loses and has been dominant forever. Nahum is part of a small market team that had a few good seasons back in the day but has been nothing but a doormat ever since.

If a fan was going to talk smack against the New York Yankees, let’s say. You’d want to take well-known things about the Yankees and then turn them into negatives:

“The house that Ruth built will be reduced to rubble.”
“Black pinstripes will turn blood red when they are slaughtered.”
“Aaron will be ‘Judged’ and found wanting.”

That’s exactly what Nahum is doing with Assyria, thought it’s easily lost on modern readers.

When Nahum writes:

The Lord will restore the splendor of Jacob
    like the splendor of Israel,
though destroyers have laid them waste
    and have ruined their vines.

He’s alluding to Assyria’s earlier domination over the northern tribe of Israel and Assyria’s insult-to-injury tactic of destroying all of an enemy’s vines so that they will have no wine to drown their sorrows. Nahum is proclaiming that the little underdog will rise again, while the mighty dynasty of Assyria is coming down.

When Nahum writes:

The shields of the soldiers are red;
    the warriors are clad in scarlet.

He’s referencing a common Assyrian boast of their shields and robes dripping with their enemies’ blood. Nahum is turning the tables, saying it will be Assyria’s blood coating the shields and robes of their enemy.

When Nahum writes:

The river gates are thrown open
    and the palace collapses.

He’s referencing the network of reservoirs and irrigation canals in and around Nineveh. When the dams are opened the river floods, making the Nineveh palace weak and compromised.

When Nahum writes:

Plunder the silver!
    Plunder the gold!
The supply is endless,
    the wealth from all its treasures!

He’s referencing the incredible wealth of Nineveh which they hoarded by plundering other peoples. This time, it will be a conquering army that plunders all of their treasures. By the way, in the late 20th century the tombs of Assyrian queens were discovered. Click here to view an online book that catalogs the hoard of gold and treasures they found (scroll past page 220 or so to see the images). It gives you an idea of the treasure that awaited those who conquered Nineveh.

When Nahum writes:

Where now is the lions’ den,
    the place where they fed their young,
where the lion and lioness went,
    and the cubs, with nothing to fear?

Ashurbanipal defeating a lion.

He’s alluding to the fact that Assyrian kings were closely associated with lions. Ashurbanipal, who was likely on the throne as Nahum is writing, was often depicted with lions or hunting lions. Statues of him always show him holding a lion. Nahum is saying that “the lion’s den” of Nineveh will be desolate after their defeat.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about how hollow Nahum’s smack-talk must have sounded when he wrote it. No one could have imagined Assyria’s defeat, and Nahum would have been laughed at and mercilessly derided for suggesting such a thing.

But, he was right. He might not have been right in the moment, but he saw the handwriting on the wall. He would be proved right in time.

That’s the way it is as a follower of Jesus. Having faith in justice and believing that the Great Story will unfold as prophetically predicted rings hollow for most people. You can find plenty of people who laugh and shake their heads. And, it neither surprises me nor do I ever think that will change. Still, I believe that justice will prevail one day and that Love wins, just as Jesus claimed it would.

But hey, I’m a Cubs fan. I’ve learned that “someday” does actually arrive.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Faith in Justice

Faith in Justice (CaD Na 1) Wayfarer

The Lord is good,
    a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
    but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh;
    he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.

Nahum 1:7-8 (NIV)

The world has watched in horror the past week-and-a-half as Afghanistan quickly fell into the hands of the Taliban. No matter which side of the political aisle one stands, and setting aside the argument of whether NATO forces should have been at all, there is no escaping the brutal realities of life under the Taliban. It’s been hard to read and hear the eye-witness accounts. A woman shot in the street for not wearing a burka. Another woman burned alive because she was considered a bad cook. When a mother is willing to throw her own baby over barbed-wire in an effort to ensure that he/she will have a life elsewhere, it tells me something.

Much of the story of what we refer to as the Old Testament is really about how one people, the Hebrews, lived and survived throughout several centuries in which one empire after another sought to control the world: Egyptians, Medes, Persians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans.

The ancient prophet, Nahum, lived in a time when the Assyrian Empire was the largest the world had seen to-date. Its capital city, Nineveh, was the largest city on the planet. He was probably writing his prophetic poems during the reign of Assyria’s last great king, Ashurbanipal (see featured photo). The Assyrian army was particularly brutal. Ashurbanipal’s records speak of him flaying enemies (removing the skin off of bodies) and draping the human skins over piles of corpses and city walls. The Assyrian armies would leave piles of dismembered limbs and dead bodies impaled on stakes as calling cards telling everyone they’d been there.

Enter Nahum, a prophet who both seeks to comfort his people and encourage them to trust God, but who most warns the Assyrians/Nineveh that God will see to it that their mighty empire will fall. In today’s opening poem, Nahum establishes God as both kind and stern. He predicts Ninevah’s fall and Judah’s joy when it does.

The Great Story is layered with recurring themes. Justice is definitely one of them, and Nahum is a mouthpiece for God’s message that the mighty empire of Assyria/Nineveh with its record of violent oppression and brutality will not last. Their just downfall is coming. But that same message also exists on a grand scale of the larger eternal epic of the Great Story. The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, He tells His followers that “the prince of this world stands condemned.” The end of the Great Story is about eternal justice on a cosmic scale. Wrongs are made right. Justice prevails. Love wins.

In the meantime, the story continues. The journey goes on, and the kingdoms of this world perpetuate injustice, violence, and brutality. Jesus tells His followers to be agents of a very different Kingdom marked by blessedness of those who are poor in spirit, the mourning, peacemakers, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the persecuted. He asked me to be marked not by power, anger, vengeance, violence, hatred, but love that is manifested in joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Being a follower of Jesus is a faith journey, and that faith includes believing that justice will prevail, just it did for Nahum. After Ashurbanipal’s reign the Assyrian Empire quickly fell apart. Its decline was swift and historians argue to this day how could so quickly fall apart and recede. So, I believe, the end of the Great Story will come just as prophesied.

In the meantime, I press on doing what I can to act justly and with love. One simple agent of a different Kingdom journeying amidst the kingdoms of this world in faith that justice will ultimately prevail, and that Love wins.

Human Systems

Human Systems (CaD Ps 122) Wayfarer

There stand the thrones for judgment,
    the thrones of the house of David.

Psalm 122:5 (NIV)

I am happy to say that I have had very little experience with the judicial system along my life journey. Only once have I been sworn in to testify before a judge. I’ll be happy for it to never happen again.

That said, a system of justice has always been a cornerstone of human civilizations. In the ancient Near East, justice typically began and ended with the king who sat on the throne, though there were often larger systems set up in order to disperse the workload so that it didn’t fall solely on the monarch to hear every little dispute.

This is exactly what Moses was dealing with when his father-in-law, Jethro, visited him in Exodus 18. Moses was hearing every dispute from early morning until late at night. Jethro told him to create a judicial system and appoint judges to hear all of the cases, and only the hard cases would work their way up to Moses.

For the ancient Hebrew tribes making pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the seasonal religious festivals, one of the side-benefits to the visit was to bring judicial issues to be decided. It was common for there to be a judgement seat or throne at the gate of the city where these judicial matters were heard and settled.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 122, is another ancient Hebrew pilgrimage song. In the lyrics of this song, the pilgrim is standing at the gates and he sees the thrones of judgment where the pilgrim can find justice. The lyrics then pray a blessing over the city so that the entire nation, including the pilgrims and their families, may live in peace and security.

In the quiet this morning, my heart and mind are meditating on two things that I’ve observed along this life journey, three things I’ve concluded. First, there will never be a perfect system of government or justice if human beings are involved. There is corruption in every human system of government and justice. Based on my experiences and observations, I believe it unreasonable and foolish for me to expect otherwise. This leads to my second observation. The best human systems of government and justice provide checks and balances to help protect the system from corruption and address corruption when it occurs. And, when the system fails to address and correct corruption it is my responsibility to do what I can within my power, citizenship, and rights to address it myself via the voting booth, free speech, and free assembly. Some systemic corruption gets addressed and corrected. Other systemic corruption continues unabated and is even accepted and praised by those who benefit from it. When I see that, I refer myself back to my first observation.

Interestingly, Jesus’ teaching had very little to say with regard to human systems of government and justice. His mission was not to change the kingdoms of this world but to instill the Kingdom of God into the hearts of individuals, into my heart, that I might bring that Kingdom into the human systems in which I interact every day. Jesus addressed individuals with the expectation that I should conduct myself in such a way as to deal honestly, honorably, and justly in my own interpersonal relationships and dealings. To serve others, and consider others more important than myself.

I’m not perfect, but I’m endeavoring to, once again, get better at it today.

More Than Words

More Than Words (CaD Ps 101) Wayfarer

I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart.
I will not look with approval on anything that is vile.
Psalm 101: 2b-3a (NIV)

The liner notes of today’s chapter, Psalm 101, attribute the lyrics to King David. The song is the king’s personal, public pledge to carry out his office and his reign in a blameless and upright manner. In the Hebrew, the song is structured in seven couplets. Since the Hebrews identified seven as the number of completeness, it is a concise pledge to the people that the king will be completely honorable and just.

To the ancient Hebrews, the heart and the eyes were of primary importance in determining one’s ultimate actions. The condition of the heart was important because the motivation of your heart fuels one’s actions. If my heart is greedy, then I’m going to act to get as much as I can for myself. If my heart is generous, then I’m going to be content with my lot and give freely to those in need.

The eyes were also important because what I spend my time looking at, taking in, and feeding to my brain, will influence the focus of my thoughts which will then affect my actions and relationships.

This combination of heart and eyes is mentioned twice in the lyrics, first in the King’s pledge which I spotlighted at the top of the post. The second time it is mentioned in contrast to the wicked person in the second half of verse five:

“Whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart,
I will not tolerate.”

As I meditated on this in the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but think about one of the most fateful moments of David’s story:

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful….
2 Samuel 11:1-2 (NIV)

David, the warrior king, chooses not to march out and lead his army on their spring campaign. This is a stark contrast to the strong military leader David had been his whole life. David was always leading on the battlefield, fighting next to his men, and getting his boots dirty in the field. Why did he choose to stay in his palace that spring? It suggests to me that there had been a shift in David’s heart.

The very next verse David looks at the beautiful Bathsheba, bathing. What would follow David’s wayward eyes was a chain-reaction of choices and circumstances that would threaten his reign and would forever stain his reputation.

In the quiet this morning I am reminded of two things. First, even the greatest of leaders have their blind spots. I write this looking back on the stains of my own story. This is both a sobering reminder to keep guarding my own heart as well as a challenge to be gracious with the shortcomings of others.

Second, I can’t help but wonder if the lyrics of Psalm 101 were a new king’s inauguration pledge that was slowly forgotten just like Charles Foster Kane’s journalistic principles in Citizen Kane. This is a reminder to me that this faith journey is a long trek. To make a pledge is easy. To live it out faithfully requires more than words.

Questions of Justice

Questions of Justice (CaD Ps 82) Wayfarer

Defend the weak and the fatherless;
    uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.

Psalm 82:3 (NIV)

Earlier this year, as the world grappled with the inescapable footage of George Floyd dying under the knee of a police officer, Wendy called a family Zoom meeting. Each person shared their thoughts and emotions. Each person discussed what he/she felt personally led to do in the wake of the event. During that same time, Wendy and I had similar conversations among different circles of our close friends.

I haven’t forgotten those conversations. I’m not sure I ever will. As I approach the end of this tumultuous year and reflect on all that I’ve experienced, I’m mindful of those conversations about my responsibility, both as a follower of Jesus and as a responsible human being, for acting on my faith to make a difference in the lives of the poor, defenseless, and oppressed.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 82, is another liturgical song that was written to be sung when all of the Hebrew people gathered for worship. It’s fascinating for the fact that Asaph draws on a common religious metaphor found in the cultures of the Near East at that time; It’s the image of a divine assembly in a heavenly hall of justice. God is sitting in judgment of the assembled “gods.” In those days, rulers of both religion and society could be considered “gods” or “sons of god” because they were considered divine agents of their society and religion.

The voice of Asaph’s lyrics is that of a temple prophet. It’s the ancient Hebrew version of a protest song. He calls society’s leaders out for caring about the poor, needy, and oppressed. He reminds them that God, the ultimate, righteous judge, will render verdict on these societal “gods” for what they did for lowest members of society. He ends his short song of protest asking God to rise up and mete out justice.

Asaph’s lyrics make me think about Jesus. I think about Jesus’ teaching and example as He spent most of the time bringing love, healing, and grace to the fringes of society living on the outskirts of His country far away from the halls of societal power and justice. The civic and religious “gods” of Jesus’ day would eventually kill Him for it.

The words of Asaph’s song leave me sitting in the quiet this morning thinking about those conversations with family and friends from earlier this year. I’m pondering some of the things that I have consciously done as a result, as well as those things that I have left undone. My thoughts shift to the road ahead as the New Year approaches. I ask myself, “Do my actions make me more like Jesus, or do they make me more like the “gods” of Asaph’s metaphorical trial?”

I’m uncomfortable with the answer.

Devastation, Dinosaurs, and Spiritual Development

Devastation, Dinosaurs, and Spiritual Development (CaD Ps 79) Wayfarer

Pay back into the laps of our neighbors seven times
    the contempt they have hurled at you, Lord.

Psalm 79:13 (NIV)

It’s Christmas season! Yesterday, Wendy and I had the blessing of hugging our children and our grandson for the first time since last December. Milo got to put the ornaments that celebrate each of the four Christmases he’s been with us on the tree. Around the base of the tree is my father’s Lionel train set, and Milo became the fourth generation to experience the joy that train chugging around the tracks.

As I experience Christmas anew this year through the eyes of a three-year-old, I’m reminded of my own childhood. Each year I would get out the Sears Christmas Wish Book catalog and make my bucket list of all the toys that I wanted. It was usually a big list and included a host of big-ticket items my parents could never afford and probably wouldn’t buy for me even if they could because there’s know way that the giant chemistry set was going to accomplish anything but make a mess, require a lot of parental assistance, and probably blow up the house. I couldn’t manage such mature cognitive reasoning in my little brain. All I knew was it was really cool, it looked really fun, and all my friends at school would be really jealous.

Along this life journey, I’ve come to understand that my finite and circumstantial emotions and desires are often incongruent with the larger picture realities of both reason and Spirit.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 79, is an angry blues rant that was written after Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians. It is a raw description of the scene of devastation after the Babylonians destroyed the city and razed Solomon’s Temple to the ground in 586 B.C. Blood and death are everywhere. Vultures and wild dogs are feasting on dead bodies because there aren’t enough people alive and well to bury the bodies. The strong, educated, and young have been taken as prisoners to Babylon. The ruins of God’s Temple have been desecrated with profane images and graffiti. The songwriter pours out heartbreak, shock, sorrow, rage, and desperate pleas for God to rise up and unleash holy vengeance in what the ancients described as “an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth.”

As I read the songwriters rant this morning, there are three things that give me layers of added perspective:

First, when God first called Abraham (the patriarch of the Hebrew tribes and nations), He made it clear that the intent of making a nation of Abraham’s descendants was so that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through them, not destroyed.

Second, God had spoken to the Hebrews through the prophet Jeremiah warning them that the natural consequences of their sin and unfaithfulness would be Babylonian captivity through the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, to whom God referred through Jeremiah as “my servant.” It appears that the songwriter may have missed that.

Third, I couldn’t help but read the songwriter’s plea for God to pay back their enemies “seven times” the contempt that their enemies had shown them, and think of the time Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive an enemy who wronged him “seven times.” Peter was trying to show Jesus that he was beginning to understand Jesus’ teaching. To the Hebrews, the number seven spiritually represented “completeness.” When the songwriter asked for “seven times” the vengeance it was a spiritual notion of “eye-for-an-eye” justice would be complete. Peter’s question assumed that forgiving an enemy seven times would be spiritually “complete” forgiveness. Jesus responds to Peter that a more correct equation for forgiveness in the economy of God’s Kingdom would be “seventy-times-seven.”

I come back to the songwriter of Psalm 79 with these three things in mind. The first time I read it, like most 21st century readers, I was taken back by the blood, gore, raw anger, and cries for holy vengeance. Now I see the song with a different perspective. I see a songwriter who is devastated and confused. I hear the crying out of a soul who has witnessed unspeakable things, and whose emotions can’t reasonably see any kind of larger perspective in the moment.

This morning I am reminded of what I discussed in my Wayfarer Weekend podcast, Time (Part 1). Humanity at the time of the ancient Hebrews was still very much in the early childhood stage of development. The songwriter is expressing his thoughts, emotions, and desires like a child desperately asking Santa for a real dinosaur for Christmas. Not just any dinosaur, a real T-Rex to put in the backyard.

Today’s psalm is another example of God honoring the need that we have as human beings of expressing our hearts and emotions in the moment, as we have them, no matter where we find ourselves in our spiritual development. As my spiritual journey has progressed, I’ve gotten better at processing my emotions and having very different conversations with God about circumstances than I did when I was a teenager, a young adult, a young husband, and a young father. It doesn’t invalidate the feelings and conversations I had back then. They were necessary for me to grow, learn, and mature in spirit.

In the quiet this morning, I’m identifying with the songwriter of Psalm 79, not affirming blood vengeance and “eye-for-an-eye-justice,” but affirming that it was where the songwriter was in that moment, just like I have had some rants and prayers along the journey that I’m kind of embarrassed think about now. This is a journey. I’m not who I was, And, I’m not yet who I will ultimately become in eternity. I’m just a wayfarer on the road of life, taking it one-step-at-a-time into a new work week.

For the record, Milo. No, you can’t have a real dinosaur. Sorry, buddy.

The Impotence to Respond

But God will break you down forever;
    he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living.

Psalm 52:5 (NRSVCE)

David was hiding in a cave in the middle of a desolate wilderness with a rag-tag group of outcasts and mercenary warriors. He may have been God’s anointed king, but the throne was still tightly under the control of his father-in-law, Saul, and Saul had made David public enemy number one. That left David scratching out a meager existence in the middle-of-nowhere as he hid from the powerful mad-king who wanted David dead.

In an act of desperation, David sneaks in to visit God’s priest, Ahimelech. Like an enemy soldier seeking sanctuary in the protection of a church, David went to the place where the traveling tent sanctuary from the days of Moses was set up and serving as the center of worship. David sought God’s divine guidance through the priest. David begged for help and was provided food as well as the sword of Goliath that was still housed there like a trophy.

It just so happened that a servant of Saul name Doeg was there and witnessed David’s visit. Doeg goes to King Saul and tells him of David’s visit and the assistance Ahimelech provided David. Saul confronts Ahimelech who attempts to argue that, as the king’s son-in-law, the priest felt an obligation to assist David as an act of faithfulness to Saul. Saul rewards Ahimelech by telling Doeg to kill him, and all of God’s priests living in the town, along with all of their wives and children. Saul has Doeg massacre an entire village of his own people and his own priests because one priest showed kindness to David.

One of Ahimelech’s son’s survives and seeks David in his hide-away cave He tells David of Doeg’s visit to Saul and subsequent massacre. David, realizing that his visit to Ahimelech started the chain of events leading to the massacre, feels the weight of responsibility for his actions.

David, as he always did with his intense emotions, channels his feelings into a song which is known to us as Psalm 52. It’s today’s chapter.

David’s song is fascinating in its structure. The first verse is David addressing Doeg and calling out his wickedness, arrogance, treachery, and deceit. The third and final verse is the contrast, with David claiming his standing in the right, trusting in God, and proclaiming that trust directly. In between the two verses is the central theme in which David hands Doeg over to God for God’s judgment. He relinquishes vengeance and retribution to God.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but put myself in David’s shoes. David was in a position of impotence. He’s hiding in a cave in the wilderness. He has no status. He has no standing. At this moment there is nothing that he can do in his own power to right the wrong that resulted from his actions. His only option is to cry out his emotions and ask God to right the wrong he is powerless to address himself.

What a powerful word picture. In this life journey I have found myself impotent to address and correct wrongs. Thankfully, the wrongs are trivial in comparison to the massacre of innocents David was dealing with. Nevertheless, I find in David an example to follow. Pouring out and expressing my rage, frustration, accusation and consciously handing over that which I am powerless to do to God.

As I contemplate David’s story, and his lyrics, this morning I find myself with two connected thoughts into the day ahead:

First, Paul writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome, who were impotent agains a Roman Empire that would throw them to the lions in the Roman Circus and watch them being devoured for entertainment:

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Romans 12:17-29 (MSG)

Second, the simple prayer of serenity:

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Amen.

Just Appeal

Just Appeal (CaD Ps 17) Wayfarer

From you let my vindication come….
Psalm 17:2a (NRSVCE)

Years ago, I found myself the object of unfair criticism by an individual who I thought was my friend. He was unhappy with me, though instead of confronting me and discussing his concerns, he decided to take his grievances to the court of public opinion. I confess that I was both sad and angered by his actions. My friend proved to be my enemy.

As luck would have it I found myself, sometime later, in possession of information regarding improprieties this person had committed. I had the opportunity to act with vengeance against the person who had injured me. I had a smoking gun that would pay back my enemy’s injuries with compounding interest. He would be out of a job and would be publicly humiliated.

I ignored the evidence. I let it go. I made a conscious choice to continue treating the person with kindness and deference whenever I run into him. Which, I still do on occasion.

Today’s chapter is yet another song penned by King David. The fascinating thing for me was not something I found in a particular line or verse, but the song itself as a whole. David structured this song like a legal appeal one would make to a King. As king, David would have heard a million legal appeals brought to him, and to King Saul while he served as a court musician, by people wanting their case decided. King David, however, is making his appeal to God, whom he places in authority above his own royal position.

It starts with a formal appeal to God to listen to his plea. He then establishes his position of innocence. He reiterates his request to be heard and praises God for his goodness and mercy. He then lays out his case against his enemies and asks God to vindicate him by judging and righteously punishing his enemies. He ends with a statement of confident trust that God will do right by him.

Sometimes in this life we find ourselves wronged with little or no position with which to get justice. Sometimes, we find that the only justice at our disposal is the justice we take into our own hands.

As a follower of Jesus, I am called to choose against my human desire for vengeance and vindication. Jesus tells me to consciously turn the other cheek, itself a conscious act of response that he exemplified time and time again as he suffered through the kangaroo court of the high priest, then the religious elders, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Pilate again, the crowds who days earlier had hailed Him as king but now shouted for His execution, and finally His enemies who stood at the foot of His cross and hurled insults at Him.

David’s psalm is a testament to Jesus’ teaching, and to David’s own example when he had multiple chances to take personal vengeance against his enemy, King Saul, while personally ensuring his ascension to the throne. With each opportunity David chose to ignore the opportunity, to let it go, and treat his enemy with deference.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about individuals who, along my life journey, I’ve considered enemies. There’s a whole bunch from childhood who I now consider friends. There are some that the road of life led in a completely different direction, and any hard feelings I may have once felt are as distant as they are. There are others, like the person I described at the top of this post, who remain in my circles of community. Their actions would indicate that they consider me some kind of enemy, but I’ve made a choice to keep treating them as friends.

Along my spiritual journey I’ve learned that pleading my case to the only Just Judge, and choosing to surrender my need for vengeance, frees my heart and mind from toxic emotions and actions which will only perpetuate and escalate circumstances. Turning the other cheek is not a passive response, it’s a conscious choice to make my appeal to God and leave it there.

I know. It sounds crazy. Following Jesus usually leads me to make choices that run opposite my natural inclinations. But, I can’t say I’ve ever regretted it.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.