Tag Archives: Psalm 94

“Just the Way it Works”

"Just the Way it Works" (CaD Ps 94) Wayfarer

They slay the widow and the foreigner;
    they murder the fatherless.

When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.

Psalm 94:6, 19 (NIV)

While a college student, I took a semester off of classes and worked as an abstractor. My job was to take the abstract of a property that was being bought or sold and search the county records for the property, the buyers, and the sellers with regard to most recent taxes, liens, contracts, or transactions. While I worked for an abstract company with an office in the county office building, most of my day was spent visiting various county offices.

The county I worked in had long been under the tight control of a political machine, and my daily observations were a harsh life lesson. There was a law against smoking in public buildings, but some county employees continued to smoke at their desks as much as they wanted without consequence. I remember one office in which a county employee told me she wasn’t going to help me simply because she didn’t want to do so that day. I was told by my employer that there was nothing that could be done about it. “That’s just the way it works,” he said. Then there were the employees who sat in offices and pretty much did nothing all day knowing that they were “untouchable.”

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that corruption exists everywhere. It exists in governments, business, education, healthcare, and religion. Wherever you find a human system you will find individuals who will rig that system for personal power and gain. There is no perfect system because there are no perfect people. I’ve come to believe that the best we can do is to have systemic accountability through checks and balances.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 94, is a song of lament from of one who sees a corrupt system, and those who suffer because of it. In particular, the songwriter calls out the three most vulnerable groups in the Hebrew society of that day: widows, orphans, and foreigners. What is both fascinating and depressing is that the Law of Moses clearly instructed the Hebrews to take care of these three vulnerable groups. The writer of Psalm 94 laments that the system isn’t working.

From my own experience, it’s a helpless, hopeless feeling.

“That’s just the way it works.”

The song shifts in verse 12, and the songwriter places his hope and trust in God being the eternal “Avenger” who will ultimately bring justice to a corrupt world. In placing faith in God’s ultimate plan, the psalmist’s anxiety gives way to joy.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful that I live in a representative republic in which individuals have some opportunity to address systemic corruption through the voting booth, the courts, speech, protest, and press. At the same time, I recognize that there are some places, even in the best of human systems, in which corruption is “just the way it works.”

This leaves me responsible to do what I can, within the systems I’m in, for those who are most vulnerable. That’s what Jesus calls me to. It also leaves me trusting Him who was crucified at the hands of a corrupt human system, to fulfill His promise of ultimately bringing justice and redemption at the conclusion of the Great Story. Joy, like that the psalmist expressed in the lyrics of today’s chapter, is experienced not in the absence of negative circumstances and human corruption, but in the midst of them.

Of Cheesecake and Chains

Wendy's key lime cheesecake.
Wendy’s key lime cheesecake.

O Lord, the God of vengeance,
    O God of vengeance, let your glorious justice shine forth!
Arise, O judge of the earth.
    Give the proud what they deserve.
Psalm 94:1-2 (NLT)

International Justice Mission (IJM) is one of the groups Wendy and I regularly support financially. In fact, because Wendy has developed a bit of a reputation for her amazing cheesecake, she occasionally gets orders for them. She decided some time ago that we will eat the cost of making any cheesecake ordered and every cent of the money she charges people for her cheesecake goes directly to IJM who works around the globe to rescue victims of slavery, exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.

I couldn’t help but think of the work of IJM as I read Psalm 94 this morning. The psalms are all ancient song lyrics that express a wide breadth of human emotion. The lyrics of this one are a heart-felt calling out for God’s justice in a cruel and unjust world. When I hear about the horrors experienced by those IJM has delivered from bondage, it inspires to sing along with this ancient cry for vengeance and recompense.

At the same time, my thirty years of sojourn through God’s Message have taught me many things. One of the lessons learned is that I cannot forget the fact that as I call on God to rain down justice on evil-doers I am asking for judgment upon myself. Jesus used the metaphor of yeast when talking about wrong-doing. Anyone who’s made bread knows that you put in just a teeny-weeny pinch of yeast and it spreads throughout the dough, causing it to rise. In God’s economy, the person who has a pinch of wrongdoing in their life is as guilty as those who have a pound of it. We are all in bondage to uncontrollable appetites of one form or another.

There is something incongruent in my heart with this. I cry out for God to strike down those I see as evil doers while at the same time I cry out for God to have grace mercy with the evil that I do.  It is a natural human emotion to desire justice for evil. It is an equally human trait to diminish, ignore and excuse the evil in me.

Jesus said to bless our enemies and pray for persecutors. Jesus Himself had nothing but kindness, love and forgiveness for corrupt and unjust tax collectors, the thugs-for-hire who beat Him, and the Roman soldiers who executed Him in horrific fashion. Jesus’ most vehement and judgmental tirades were exclusively aimed at the good, clean-cut, upstanding religious people… like me.

Today I am pondering cheesecake, charity, and chains. Wendy will continue to make cheesecake and we will continue to support IJM and the work of delivering victims of oppression. But, my personal attitude towards those who do such evil is challenged this morning. I believe they deserve justice, but they also need God. They need God as much, if not more than I do. The evil and wrongdoing in me is well concealed and relatively controlled, but it is still there. If I had been born in a different time and place in different circumstances I might just as easily have been the one enslaving others.