A layman’s progress

Monthly reflections from Terry Hawes, lay preacher at St John’s

August 2020

There’s some really eye opening stuff in the Bible.  Try reading Psalm 53 up to verse 8.  Ouch…isn’t God love?  And what should we make of this, Psalm 57 8-9?

8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

That’s really ugly, so should we just ignore it, or worse, take it as our example?  Why is it here in my Bible?

Being hurt is part of our life, & so is our response.  Being angry, upset, even wanting to hurt the perpetrator is something we all feel; being angry & upset is natural & acceptable.  But paying back directly, meting out our own measure of justice – or is that revenge – is not.  Staying angry is very harmful to ourselves, because it gives oxygen to the flames of violence.  Those who hurt us before can only hurt us now if we allow it.  That’s a really easy thing to say, but when I first read it many years ago it struck a chord & I haven’t forgotten it, it taught me that we have a degree of control over what we think & feel, & certainly over what we do.  But being realistic, it’s a hard thing to put into practice.  Perhaps the image of the rose garden at these dark times, the idea of deliberately choosing other thoughts might help us to divert these angry & painful responses.

That question again – why is it in my Bible?  Note that the psalmist is not seeking direct action, he is venting, getting the anger out, you can picture him walking up a mountain waving his arms around & muttering or even shouting out loud.  Suppression is bad for you, I recall one definition of stress being the need to resist the impulse to slap someone who really deserves it…while I don’t advocate slapping people, nor do I accept that just letting people walk all over us is acceptable either.  Society has a system of law & order, flawed though it is, & it is to that we should turn when something is seriously wrong.  These thoughts are more to do with the bumps & bruises of everyday life; the driver who gestures at you, the people who go home early & leave you with the washing up, the guy with the big elbows who always gets served first, the rude & the selfish.  Unfortunately it’s a broken world, & we all endure it, & being honest we all dish it out sometimes don’t we?  There are other parts of the Bible which deal with these kind of insults, speaking properly to the perpetrator, taking a mediator if that fails – but sometimes they just bang into you & disappear without trace.  How do we handle that?

I think the psalmist probably didn’t get served & also got the washing up, or something even worse by the look of his words.  But what he’s actually doing is appealing to God to do something, not himself.  This is an expression of confidence in God’s awareness of both his pain & the need for justice.  Vengeance is mine, saith The Lord, & the psalmist has surrendered the right to take things into his own hands.  We should not leave our pain & anger at the Church door or out of our prayers; we should not pretend to virtue that we don’t possess then pick up all that baggage again on the way home, because  that begets a descending spiral of evil & violence.  Isn’t this where people despise Christians?  Don’t they watch carefully for those who put on their Sunday best then bully others all week?

We should take pain into Church & prayer, bring it before God & get it out there.  This is part of our relationship with God – honesty.  It’s not some wimpish acceptance of wrong, nor currying favour with the bullies or the wicked, but rather it’s lancing the boil, purging the poison, starting the process of draining the damage & allowing us to begin healing.  Then we can go to the rose garden; choose other thoughts, remember those things we are pleased with, & remember those who have helped us

This is the beginning of forgiveness towards those who injure us, & of ourselves for our unchristian response.  Don’t try to escape from God – give Him your every unworthy thought.

Then try to leave it there.