Psalm 10 – Does God Care?
A bird came down the walk,
he didn’t know I saw;
he bit an angle worm in half
and ate the fellow raw.
In the Garden by Emily Dickinson.
In this short poem by Emily Dickinson, she dispassionately observes the reality of garden life. Birds eat worms. That’s just the way it is. It strikes me that this is one possible image of God, dispassionately observing the reality of the world. This raises the question found in Psalm 10: Does God Care?
Psalm 10 is a continuation of Psalm 9, however there is a profound shift in tone. Psalm 9 ends in confidence. Psalm 10 is a lament. It speaks of the seeming indifference of God in face of wrongs suffered by righteous. The phrase “Why do you stand far off, O Lord?” is a familiar formula to introduce a lament (psalm 13, 22, 31, 42, 43). Where Psalm 9 was a psalm of orientation, God is in heaven all is right with world; Psalm 10 is psalm of disorientation – where is God? Why is God far off?
Psalm 10 asks God, why are you hiding? Then the author lists all of the problems in society. As one commentary states: “the poet then proceeds to inveigh for twelve verses against a society in which the ruling class is unscrupulous, cruel, God-neglectful, and apparently prosperous. Bitterness against the rich pervades every verse, and vivid images are piled one upon the other to describe a condition of lawlessness in which the prosperous are ravenous animals and the poor are their victims.” This could easily be a lament by the members of the occupy Wall Street movement.
In verse 2 we hear how “in arrogance the wicked persecute the poor.” How like the Wall Street brokers and bankers who arrogantly pursue money with no thought as to how it might affect people? Or Enron executives who grew rich off the backs of the rank and file who lost their retirement? Or any of those who accumulate more and more money without thought of the “99%” who go without; who perceive themselves as worthier than others and so deserving of more.
“Let them be caught in the schemes which they have devised” verse2 continues. Let them be caught in their own web of deceit, be found out and receive the punishment they deserve. Let the punishment fit the crime, as happened to Bernie Madoff who lost all his ill-gotten gain.
In verses 3-4 we hear how the wicked boast about their possessions, as if that makes them better than others. They make themselves their own god, claiming “there is no God.” If there is no God then they feel they are justified in taking what they can in this life.
The wicked appear to prosper (5). The rich get richer on the backs of the poor. They came out of the Wall Street bail-out unscathed while the economy suffered. Foolishly they think nothing can happen to them. They think they cannot be harmed (6). Famous last words. “Throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity” they claim – ask the Bernie Madoff’s of the world about this. Or, since the recent “Me Too” movement, ask Harvey Weinstein and other sexual predators.
“Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under their tongues are mischief and iniquity. They sit in ambush in the villages; in hiding places they murder the innocent. Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert; they lurk that they may seize the poor; they seize the poor and drag them off in their net.” (7-9)
Strong words and images! The proud and wicked are compared to beasts of prey who see the poor as their rightful target, victims to devour.
In verses 10-11 we hear how the poor who are caught in the nets of the wicked can feel like there is no God or that God is hiding. “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” (11) Funny how pride and poverty can result in the same faulty logic – that there is no God, or, if there is, he has forgotten his people.
In verses 12-15 the psalm shifts. Where before the psalmist was reflecting the words of the wicked and the wretched, now we hear where he stands in the face of so much pain and oppression. He calls upon God, asking him to raise his hand against those who are wicked. He affirms that, yes, God does see what’s going on and God will respond. He calls upon God to break the arm of the wicked, destroy their wickedness.
The psalm ends with words of confidence – God is King! God is in charge! God hears the cries of the oppressed and will respond! “O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.” (17-18)
The psalm moves from disorientation to a new orientation, from despair to trust.
Chances are there have been times in your own life when you felt God did not care; when you looked at the world situation, all of the evils and wrongs in this world and wondered – where is the justice? Where is God? God may pose the same question to us – what are we doing? Where is justice? Why do we allow the wicked to prosper?
Some, when confronted with evil in the world can question – is there a God and if so, why doesn’t he do anything? They may question whether God is good. These are fundamental questions of faith, ones that each of us needs to wrestle with. There are no easy answers. Even the great theologian, C.S. Lewis, in the depths of pain at the death of his wife, questioned “did God care?’ or were we just some rats in the laboratory of life?
Funny how the logic of the wicked and the wretched both lead to not believing in God: one because of pride, the other because of poverty.
There are no easy answers however there is hope for those who believe. We, who believe, have hope in the resurrection, that this life is not all there is. We believe that the wicked will not always prevail, that there will be a day of reckoning, and that God hears the cries of the poor and those who are in pain. God hears us. If our God seems far off, it is not because God has moved away, but our own faulty, limited abilities to see God as God is.
The psalmist raises basic questions of faith and answers them: Yes, God hears, God does care. God wasn’t content to sit on high and watch the goings on in the world, but chose to become human and experience all that we experience in this life. We don’t have a passive, uncaring God, but one who cares about us and hears us when we cry to him.
Where is God in your own life? Does God appear to be distant and uncaring? How can you grow in your ability to recognize God’s loving care this Lent?
This post is part of a series on the Psalms. Click on the button to follow the blog and receive a free copy of the book, Dancing on a High Wire, book 1 of the Dancing Through Life Series! click here to follow blog