Quite a few years ago there was a controversy that hit the national news about how a very prominent leader of a large evangelical organization said that a particular non-Christian religious group should not have its leaders called upon for public prayers, because God did not “hear” those prayers. His point was that their efforts were worthless, because they did not believe in Jesus. The remark made such a stir that even President Reagan was asked to render his opinion on it.
Another evangelical leader put the whole thing into a better context, asking what was meant by “hear.” If it meant to say if God knew what was said, then yes, he did hear it. But if what was meant was if God acknowledged those prayers as from his own people, then no, they were not “heard” in the same way of being honored.
God hears everything, for he is omniscient. And the Psalm writer today talks about his own desire that God would “hear” his cry – meaning that God would acknowledge it. But he also writes in reference to saying that he knows God hears (is knowledgeable) about what the writer’s evil enemies say and do. Therefore, the Psalmist is certain that God will rightly see the entire situation and honor and bless him in the midst of his distress.
A central question that surrounds the odd and difficult category of the Imprecatory Psalms that we are looking at all this week is this: Why does God allow injustice to so often prevail in an unpunished state?
If God never allowed injustice or anything that is wrong or evil, well, we wouldn’t have a world to live in anymore. Of course, there is going to be a final day of reckoning, and there will be a new heaven and new earth that is devoid of injustice. It ain’t right now, however.
We will all experience periods of life where injustice makes us a victim to some extent. And like in this Psalm, it may well come through the hands of someone with whom we had a very close relationship at one time – maybe even in the family of faith. Untruths, half-truths, non-contextualized things may be said against us, and we then find ourselves in a very precarious position.
And in general, it may just seem that evil and godless people around us appear to prosper, while God’s people are harmed and distressed. But remember, Jesus said that in this world we would have tribulation.
The pain of being a victim of injustice that surrounds and afflicts us may make us want to do what the writer here pictures – become a dove and fly away to some remote hiding place. But we can’t run from it; we must do what David did – cry out to God and trust him, knowing that he will ultimately deliver us.
There were three points I made in Sunday’s message about the apparent prevailing nature of injustice:
- We are surprised by it and it seems so wrong, but we often fail to realize what a total mess sin has made of this world and our lives in it.
- Even in a fallen world, there is a general principle at work that truth rises to the surface and evil leads to destruction and bad results (see the final verse in today’s Ps. 55).
- God does ultimately judge all evil, so injustice only prevails in a temporary sense.
God does see and hear and know everything; and we can trust him, even in the midst of seasons where injustice abounds around us and we experience its pain.
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David.
1 Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; 2 hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught 3 because of what my enemy is saying, because of the threats of the wicked; for they bring down suffering on me and assail me in their anger.
4 My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me.
5 Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.
6 I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.
7 I would flee far away and stay in the desert; 8 I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.”
9 Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words, for I see violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they prowl about on its walls; malice and abuse are within it.
11 Destructive forces are at work in the city; threats and lies never leave its streets.
12 If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide.
13 But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, 14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers.
15 Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the realm of the dead, for evil finds lodging among them.
16 As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me.
17 Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.
18 He rescues me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.
19 God, who is enthroned from of old, who does not change—he will hear them and humble them, because they have no fear of God.
20 My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant.
21 His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.
22 Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.
23 But you, God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of decay; the bloodthirsty and deceitful will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in you.