Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Psalm 7: Lions and chase scenes and child/parent relations, oh my!

The initial reason why I like psalm 7 is because of the punchy language. There are lions, heists and a chase scene within the first 5 verses.

“deliver me from all who pursue me
Lest, like a lion, they tear me to pieces

If I have repaid my friend with evil
or plundered him who without cause is my enemy
Then let my enemy pursue me and overtake me.”

In these first lines, I hear someone singing about their faith in God and going so far as to say that if they have done anything, anything at all that may be anathema, then may the devil take me where I stand (which is, of course, complicated from an Old Testament perspective because they didn’t believe in a personified “devil” persay… anyway…)!
It is, of course, a very Israelite way of describing things, though. I get the sense that this psalm is sung by someone who is the underdog (or, at least, who feels like the underdog). Right at the beginning of the psalm, the singer is taking refuge in God, asking for protection from all those in pursuit. This chase is sung of again in verse 5. And in that fifth verse, it’s not the devil taking the singer, but these enemies. The singer is telling God “If I’m not doing right by you, just ignore me. If you don’t think I’m one of yours, just let them catch me and destroy me. You know they’ll beat me down and tear me apart and obliterate me. And you can just go ahead and do that, IF you don’t think I’ve done right by you.”

I think it’s another very Israelite thing to do; pleading with God like a child would with a parent and then pulling a fast one. “If you hate me, I’ll just go away.” And what father would be so heartless to say “fine!” No. A loving parent would step in to save their child. And how much greater is God than any human parent?

“Stand up, O Lord, in your wrath
rise up against the fury of my enemies
… God is my shield and my defense
he is the savior of the true in heart.”

So if God is the warrior-parent and the singer is the child-righteous one, then who is the enemy hot in pursuit?

“Look at those who are in labor with wickedness
who conceive evil and give birth to a lie.”

This is another description I like, since it is so rooted in human experience. This time it is a strange, perverse pregnancy. the first description I quoted from the New Revised Standard Version. In the New International Version it says:

“Whoever is pregnant with evil
conceives trouble and gives birth to disillusionment.”

This kind of imagery is across all the translations I have looked at. The enemies of the singer (and any others of their ilk) have some kind of wickedness or harm that is gestating within them. And when this finally is brought into the world, it will be given to dupe others. This wicked birth may even be intended to draw the singer away from God. And then the singer really would deserve to be beaten and torn apart and pulverized into nothing, according to what was sung to God earlier in the psalm.

The singer seems to have it so clearly in their head that the Lord defends the righteous against this kind of wickedness. And by ‘defend,’ this does not mean something like a defense attorney in a court, no. In this sense, we’re talking about the Lord who is the one with the weapons that will destroy anyone who would harm the beloved singer. In this sense, the Lord sounds like a father, sitting up late at night on the porch with a shotgun, waiting for his daughter to come back from a date with a sleazy guy.

So what are the Lord’s weapons? How does the punishment come? This may be the most fascinating part. It’s almost as if the Lord can get in the wicked one’s head and make them destroy themselves.

“They dig a pit…
and fall into the hole they have made.
Their malice turns back on their own head.”

In this moment, I am reminded how St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about different orders of laws and that cosmic laws, the laws that we may call physics now, are like the cogs of the universe. So how could it be so far fetched that the pre-ordained way the world works is that the wicked will come to ruin?

It does not seem so much that the Lord comes and bodily destroys the wicked in the flesh, so much that the Lord has set in motion the cogs of all reality and so the cogs that mesh and act in the wicked cause them to fall and be ruined by what they, themselves, have been doing. The plans that the wicked have been making are biased and they can do nothing but cause ruin, because that is how the world works.

It seems like all this has been planned and set in motion long before this singer ever made a psalm for God or before these particular enemies ever started chasing the singer. And so I stand in awe of the psalm. Because the language is so human and yet so cosmic at the same time.