“O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth!”
How else can I explain my response to the latest atrocity, the latest destructive event, that has been unleashed in our land and within our consciousness. And this latest is the worst! Hurricanes are devastating, sure enough, but we do not blame them for being so! We simply prepare ourselves to endure them, and to pick up ourselves and our communities after them.
But acts of terror are different! Especially seemingly meaningless acts of terror! These are devastating. These are unfathomable. These are overwhelming. These are difficult to deal with; and so we do not!
We become ‘numb’! We retreat from its horror; we draw back from its irrationality; we cocoon ourselves emotionally waiting for the horror to pass—waiting to get back to the living of our lives.
But as Christians, this response simply will not do!
‘Numbness’ is the response of a morally relativistic culture, a culture that has lost its ability to deal with the categories of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, with ‘good’ and ‘evil’. When we truly believe that nothing is intrinsically good or right, then we have lost our ability both to understand and to deal with acts of meaningless terror. Such a culture becomes ‘numb’ to such acts.
This latest ‘seemingly-meaningless-act-of-terror’ was NOT a morally neutral act! It was ‘evil’ through and through. And we, as Christians, cannot be morally neutral towards ‘evil’! If we dare name it as such, we must deal with it as such.
So how do we do so?
There are many answers to that question, but I found myself drawn to the Psalmist’s dealing with his own experience of evil in Psalm 94 (last night’s psalm set for Evening Prayer).
Note his complaint (v. 4-7):
(The wicked) pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless;
And they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”
But note as well to whom the psalmist makes his complaint (v. 1-2):
‘O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance shine forth!
Rise up, O Judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve!’
In a morally relativistic age, those words are troubling and problematic.
But in a moral universe, created and governed by a holy, righteous, loving and powerful God, they are instructive and hope-filled.
The psalmist prays to the God who alone can exact vengeance in accord with his loving purposes for his creation. He names the evil that he sees and then cries out to the One who alone can deal with it. Now, to be sure, the psalmist desires that this One ‘will bring back on them their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness; the LORD God will wipe them out’ (v.23). However, his morally questionable end goal does not take away from his morally charged beginning point. He cries out to his Creator to set his creation right! And trusts that—one day—he will do so!
The psalmist consciously lives within a moral world, and consciously chooses to align himself to the morally right and true and good and beautiful. He champions ‘good’ and utterly opposes ‘evil’.
But note as well, the Psalmist knows that to take such a stance has personal consequences.
“Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law.”
If we dare cry out to the God of creation to deal with the evil within his creation, we need to be open to his dealing with the ‘evil’ residing within ourselves! And this, first and foremost of all.
So,by all means, let us cry out for justice, for the utter destruction of evil. Let us not become ‘numb’ to it.
But let us first cry out for the means of grace to deal with that which continues to afflict us.