Politicians have always been corrupt. Not all of them are, of course. But always, God’s people have struggled under the weight of evil leaders.
Always, the presence of the powerful who use their power inappropriately has caused both personal and theological turmoil. How can God let them get away with it? Is there any source of justice in the world? Will God do anything to set things right?
Psalm 58 reminds us that we are not the first to ask such questions or to be so disturbed by our political landscape. We are in well-traveled territory here. And not only have our forebearers in the faith walked in similar shoes as we walk, they’ve left us a prayer that articulates our angst with a vehemence that is both a relief and a shock.
It’s a relief to read such deeply felt words of anger about the political situation right there in the middle of the Bible. They validate our own angers and remind us that the most appropriate expression of that anger is before the throne of God — the one who judges justly and who will see justice done.
But the Psalm comes as a shock with its graphic imagery of the psalmist’s praying imagination. Smashed in teeth? Snail slime? Goblets of blood drunk in toast to their downfall?
It moves from vengeful to gruesome in a few short verses. And quickly I’m wondering if I should be praying such dark prayers.
This is the beauty and the humanity of the Psalms. The darkness is prayed. All of it. Right down to the most gruesome bottom of it.
If we don’t go to the bottom of our angst with God in prayer, it’s going to come out in some other, less appropriate way.
I think of the African American man who killed five white police officers after two black men were killed by white police officers earlier in the week.
I understand his anger. I understand his desire for retribution. But what he did was as unjust as what had been done earlier in the week. His bottled up rage came out in the wrong way. Justified rage; unjustified action.
We need the horrible words of Psalm 58 to keep us from horrible actions that twist the justice we seek.
Prayer is a deeply political action. It changes the world by calling on the God of justice to bring down the powerful who have been using their power to push down instead of lift up.
Prayer topples tyrants.
And it keeps God’s people from unjust actions of our own.
So, here is Psalm 58 in all its angry power. Pray along with it and see what God will do with you and your anger and with the injustice in the world that fuels your anger.
Is this any way to run a country?
Is there an honest politician in the house?
Behind the scenes you brew cauldrons of evil,
behind closed doors you make deals with demons.
The wicked crawl from the wrong side of the cradle;
their first words out of the womb are lies.
Poison, lethal rattlesnake poison,
drips from their forked tongues—
Deaf to threats, deaf to charm,
decades of wax built up in their ears.
God, smash their teeth to bits,
leave them toothless tigers.
Let their lives be buckets of water spilled,
all that’s left, a damp stain in the sand.
Let them be trampled grass
worn smooth by the traffic.
Let them dissolve into snail slime,
be a miscarried fetus that never sees sunlight.
Before what they cook up is half-done, God,
throw it out with the garbage!
The righteous will call up their friends
when they see the wicked get their reward,
Serve up their blood in goblets
as they toast one another,
Everyone cheering, “It’s worth it to play by the rules!
God’s handing out trophies and tending the earth!”