The Eternal Struggle
This psalm is a response to the problem of evil. It recognizes that evil is real and that its effects are real. We have seen it at work in the world. When we see it, or are affected by it, we are at first, stunned. We are made speechless in its presence. It is beyond us and is so outside of the norm that it strikes us as a thing of mystery. As it should. Evil is not normal. Nor is it a simple matter of psychological aberration. It is the product of a knowing, conscious choice to do something that is known to be morally wrong. In the end, though, it is nothing but foolishness. For God will rescue the good and punish the wicked.
Evil is quite literally the opposite of the good. They are not two sides of the same coin. There is an infinite distance between them. Yet, they are both real. And because they are both real, they both have direct consequences in the real world. The psalmist makes that very clear in this long psalm. The psalm is written as an acrostic, that is, each section begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And each section has its own imagery and logic. In this psalm each section contrasts good and evil behaviors and their consequences.
The psalm asks a familiar question, “Why do the wicked seem to prosper and the good suffer? It answers the question by recognizing the reality of evil, but argues that evil’s power and the suffering that it causes to the good and the innocent is only temporary. It says that God will reverse things, that he will reward the good and punish the wicked. We know that the mystery of evil is still with us, that its effects upon us are real and that the suffering it causes is immense. Indeed, we have seen it most recently, entering a church. Its perpetrator sat with those who had welcomed him with Christian hospitality and watched them pray for an hour before committing horrifying, murderous violence.
What are we to learn from this reflection on the problem of evil? What should we do? The psalmist tells us that we are to, “Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace.” (verse 37) It is they who we are to keep our eyes on. It is they who we are to imitate in our own lives. We are to recognize and to study only that which is good, noble, righteous and just. “But all sinners will be destroyed; there will be no future for the wicked.” (verse 38) Though the wicked and their evil acts have a profound effect on us in the immediate moment, the psalmist tells us that God will punish the wicked and reward the good. In faith, then, we are not to be overwhelmed by evil. Rather, we are to overwhelm evil with good. Evil has no future. The good, on the other hand, will know God in the everlasting land of peace, where joy will be their prosperity. They will be delivered from the wicked and will find refuge in God. Thanks be to God.
Lord, help us to keep our eyes only on you and that which is good. Give us the courage to respond to evil only with overwhelming good. Strengthen our faith, our knowledge of the good and our commitment to it. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen!
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