Many times bravery and danger are two sides of the coin. This evening’s psalm is both. Psalm 35 is a desperate plea from someone so excluded that he, in a prayer to God, paints the scenario with war-like imagery. At first it could be tempting to see this as actual war, as a psalm from a king engaged in battle with another country, but the language shifts halfway through this psalm to familial language. Whether his enemies are another country warring against him to take his land or those in the community who are exiling him, it is clear that he wants God’s wrath and he wants it now.
He goes back and forth from a demand for revenge upon his enemies at the hand of God and his love of God. These two things seem dichotomous. How can one claim to love God and to hate those who hate him? Unfortunately, it is all too easy how we can hold this tension without it causing us to take note. How do we regard those we find different verses those we love deeply. We may not find ourselves asking for God’s wrath to come down upon anyone any time soon, but perhaps we get close enough that we don’t have to. Do we treat all people like they are created in the image of God?
Is it brave to ask for God to smite your enemies? Not so much, but there is some bravery in being able to fully articulate the pain of exclusion and exile; to pray to God is to give voice to all that brings joy to or weighs down our hearts. If we ignore our hatred when we pray, yet still let it guide our actions, are we any better off than the psalmist?
The psalmist prayer is dangerous for obvious reasons; it is a plea for God to intervene in this world because of a short term situation. It is dangerous because it is selfish. The psalmist, in his demand for God to act gets exasperated with God’s silence:
You have seen, O Lord; do not be silent!O Lord, do not be far from me!
Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defense for my cause, my God and my Lord!
God’s silence is God listening to the unfiltered prayers of someone who is angry and hurt, and God’s silence is not God’s ignoring his prayers, but rather it is God give space for this person to be, and refusing to enact their revenge.
Sometimes, in our own prayers, God’s silence is God’s grace at work.