Virginia Tech. Northern Illinois University. Columbine High School in Colorado. Santa Fe High School in Texas. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Oxford High School in Michigan. An Amish School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. And 19 babies and 2 teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
The Psalter cries,
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Meanwhile, in their arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
they are caught in the schemes of his devices.
The Aurora Theater in Colorado. Walmart in El Paso and in Denver. The Pulse Night Club in Florida. A music festival in Las Vegas. FedEx Warehouse in Indianapolis. A massage parlor in Atlanta. And 10 innocent Black bodies - mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, essential workers, and senior citizens - at a TOPS grocery store in Buffalo.
And the Psalter cries:
[The wicked] wait in a place perfect for ambush;
from their hiding places they kill innocent people;
their eyes spot those who are helpless.
They lie in ambush in secret places,
like a lion in its lair.
Mother Emmanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina. Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Living Church of God in Brookfield, Wisconsin. First Baptist Church in Southerland, Texas. Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Laguna, California.
And the Psalter cries:
Their helpless victims are crushed;
they collapse, falling prey to the strength of the wicked.
We mourn. We cry. We carry balloons, teddy bears, and flowers to makeshift memorials. We listen to speeches. We march. We protest and we cry out to our leaders for action, but action does not come. Change seems afar off, if ever.
And the Psalter cries:
Their ways are always twisted.
Your rules are too lofty for them.
They snort at all their foes.
They think to themselves,
We’ll never stumble.
We’ll never encounter resistance.
Their mouths are filled
with curses, dishonesty, and violence.
Under their tongues lie
troublemaking and wrongdoing.
In our time of immense communal grief, anguish, and despair, the words of Psalm 10 from this week’s Women’s Lectionary give voice to our sentiment as a people traumatized by the demonstrations of evil in this world. Poetically they express our innermost thoughts. Why do the evil prey on the least of these? Why do our leaders not heed the cries of those in need? Why does evil seem to be defeating good? And where are you, O God? Why do you stand far off?
Yet the words of the psalter remind us that this battle for good vs. evil, this fight for justice, this challenging of the empire, and this mourning for the least, the left out, and the lost (those lost too soon, lost violently, and lost to the evils of this world) - this battle is not new. The names have been changed, not necessarily to protect the innocent, just changed.
This is a psalm of lament believed to have been possibly written during the Exile or other time of conflict in Israel. Maybe it is the cry of women left to bury their husbands and sons, brothers and fathers. And while this psalm begins with a cry to God, it does not blame God for Israel’s present predicament. This psalm of lament places the blame squarely on human action. In an interesting twist, the marginalized rise up and specifically call out those with power and control who perpetrate or facilitate the evil. They challenge the systems of oppression that enable systemic abuse of the poor and those who have been othered in their society. In the midst of their grief, the voiceless now dare to raise their voices. They dare to speak for themselves, and the power of their lament gives hope to those who mourn the evil injustices we face in our present age.
Biblical scholars note that Psalm 9 and 10 were actually one contiguous psalm. It begins with praise and thanksgiving to God for victory over the enemy in Psalm 9 and then turns to a lament that calls out the evil deeds and arrogant thoughts of those who perpetrate evil in chapter 10. Yet even in lament the psalmist affirms hope in God’s power to deliver! In a lyric of trust the psalmist declares,
Why do the wicked reject God?
Why do they think to themselves
that you won’t find out?
But you do see!
You do see troublemaking and grief,
and you do something about it!
The helpless leave it all to you.
You are the orphan’s helper.
God is the helper of the orphan – those who are helpless and hopeless; those who are least and the lost; orphaned and othered; those who are rejected and reviled; those who are discriminated and disregarded. God does see and God will help. This is the hope of the psalmist in Psalm 10 and this is the confirmation of hope in this week’s lectionary epistle from Romans 8:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Oh, God does see! And God will help, but like the psalmist we must use our voices to speak out against injustice, hate, and evil. God delivered Israel when Moses refused to give up but continued to say, “Let my people go!” That memory empowered the psalmist to speak. And we must use our voices to continually and consistently speak out against racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia, and all other types of evil. We must use our voices until we have sensible gun legislation and proper mental health care for all. This psalm calls us to use our lament as a catalyst to action and trust in God. This psalm reminds us that God’s actions and our actions need not be mutually exclusive.
In the midst of our grief, we must draw on our collective memory of what God has done in the past and remember that, if God did it before, God can and will do it again. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in the time of trouble. And God promised never to leave us nor forsake us. God does see and God will help. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.
As we grieve and ask, “How long must we endure this violence? How long will our children be gunned down? How long will our leaders lament but not listen, lecture but not legislate?” the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. come to mind.
How long? Not long! Because truth crushed to the earth will rise again.
How long? Not long! Because no lie can live forever!
How long? Not long! Because you shall reap what you sow!
How long? Not long! Because the arc of the moral universe is long,
but it bends towards justice.
In the midst of our tears, we have hope because God does see, and God has given us the power to make a difference in our voices!
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.