Every now and then, I quit social media. My Facebook friends get too whiny with their politics, too woe-is-me about the world. My Twitter feed gets too full of sarcasm about the most recent news item to be trending.
Our too-connected world has become a too-anxious world.
But it’s always been this way. The doings of the powerful have always raised the anxiety and blood pressure of the not-so-powerful. The shenanigans of the princely and the popular have always angered those who have set their hearts on doing good. The poor have always been preyed upon by the rich, the weak by the strong, the old by the young, women by men, foreigners by locals.
This is not a new story. And neither is it a new angst. We’ve been stressed for the entire scope of human history.
So, how do we deal with it? And for that matter, how did our ancestors deal with it?
For that, I turn to the Psalms. Most of the psalms deal with struggles of one kind or another and a handful directly deal with our same angst over bad people getting away with doing bad stuff. One of those is Psalm 37.
It starts with a simple, “Don’t fret!” And it continues with an almost karma-like declaration that the wicked will get what they deserve:
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity.
The wicked plot against the righteous
and gnash their teeth at them;
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he knows their day is coming. (Ps. 37:7-13)
God sees humor in this. It’s a bitter humor, to be sure, but he laughs anyway. The bad guys will slip on banana peels eventually. Their bad end is built into their bad actions. Evil is a boomerang. “Their day is coming.”
Those who exploit others and bully people around are compared with grass that’s green today but will soon end up withered and brown and blow away.
The opposite of the wicked are those who hope in the Lord (v. 9), the meek (v. 11), the blameless who spend their days under the Lord’s care (v. 18), those the Lord blesses (v. 22), those who turn from evil and do good (v. 27), the righteous/just (v. 29), and those who hope in the Lord and keep his way (v. 34).
What’s interesting about those seven verses listed above is they all promise the same exact thing to those who trust God and do right in spite of the success of the wicked: They will inherit the land.
The land was precious above all things to the ancient Hebrews. As a landless people coming out of Egyptian slavery, it was the gift above all gifts. It provided real hope for a real future. The land was a truly tangible expression of God’s loving care for them.
A few years ago, I joined a group to visit a brand new village in Honduras. Bella Vista hadn’t existed as a village even three years before. But through the work of the amazing organization Agros, a group of about 40 families were taken from the slums of San Pedro Sula, given micro loans enabling them to buy their own land, taught how to farm that land with cash crops of coffee, cocoa, and plantains (along with a few food crops), and formed into a brand new community.
Amazingly, through industrious hard work, three families had managed to pay of their 10-year loans in only three years, and I got to witness the ceremony in which they were given the deeds to their very own land. In one regard, the ceremony was exceedingly boring, since every word of the deeds was read aloud and translated from Spanish into English. “For 52 feet along the perimeter road, down 91 feet along the creek …” the deeds were filled with details I wasn’t interested in hearing.
But then it struck me. These people loved those details, because it described their land. They had no land before and now they did. One man talked of fearing for his kids’ safety and having to carry them as he waded through sewage ditches in order to take them to school in the morning. After that, he’d spend the rest of the day loading and unloading a pickup truck with rocks only to do it again the next day. But now he owned his own land in a safe new community and wept as he received his deed.
This is exactly how the Hebrews felt.
The land is forever and so too is God’s love, unlike the quick-to-sprout, quick-to-die flash in the pan success and power plays of those the news media fawn over. Impressive with their big bank accounts and big words and big muscles, they’re really just pumped up with hot air and ready to fizzle or explode when finally punctured.
Justice will have the final word, because God will have the final word. This isn’t karma. This is judgment, with the Judge awarding the land to the faithful.
There are times when Psalm 37 sounds trite or too pat in its declarations. But that’s because the psalmist knows the God he trusts in. He knows what God has done in the past and what he’s promised to do in the future. Because of that, he trusts in the present, regardless of how bad things look at the moment. God’s justice is just as solid and eternal as the land beneath our feet.
The biblical response to political angst is to trust, to wait, to do good, and simply enjoy God right now. He’ll make sure it all works out as it should.
Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun. (Ps. 37:3-6)
Don’t fret. It’ll work out, because God is working on it.