1 Do you rulers indeed speak justly?
Do you judge people with equity?
2 No, in your heart you devise injustice,
and your hands mete out violence on the earth.
3 Even from birth the wicked go astray;
from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies.
4 Their venom is like the venom of a snake,
like that of a cobra that has stopped its ears,
5 that will not heed the tune of the charmer,
however skillful the enchanter may be.
6 Break the teeth in their mouths, O God;
Lord, tear out the fangs of those lions!
7 Let them vanish like water that flows away;
when they draw the bow, let their arrows fall short.
8 May they be like a slug that melts away as it moves along,
like a stillborn child that never sees the sun.
9 Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns—
whether they be green or dry—the wicked will be swept away.[c]
10 The righteous will be glad when they are avenged,
when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 Then people will say,
“Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
surely there is a God who judges the earth.”
– Psalm 58, NIV
Between seven and two today everyone is restless. It’s the End of the year- the summer sky and beach are so close that we can feel the hot sand beneath our feet. We’re at the lip of it, tense and tilting toward the clock.
It’s been a long hard year. We’ve had babies born to babies, calls to the police, parents showing up in their doped-up state, and several, several students fail. Some of my best and brightest have gone missing for days and when they came back, I found out they spent a few nights in jail.
We’re all barely standing, graceless in our grouchiness. The kids have turned on each other. The staff are sniping at one another. And with all the small fires starting around me, the very last thing I wanted to do was write about God and his “stillborn” punishment.
Last week, when I reflected on this passage, I thought, shit- this will be another skip.
I thought about how through each of these psalms, God’s face feels a little more distant and dark. I hear him cackling from a crow’s nest, sniper rifle cocked.
But then, something shifted for me, at least a little bit.
At lunch I was sitting with the kid that I wrote about in my Psalm 56 reflection. There is a woman that shuffles over to us and it happens every day. She’s the mother of one of the students and she cleans the cafeteria. She’s not the easiest person to speak with. She’s pretty stubborn. Pretty angry at her pothead kid. Pretty pissed at us for setting boundaries for her home life and her work life. But what else are we to do? She keeps making things worse and worse.
She comes in and sits at our table, rubber gloves and soapy bucket at her side. The kid I am sitting with is best friends with her son, who just graduated last week. It seems her must for mothering has found its purpose in his friends, and as she begins to talk, I twiddle my thumbs, because I’m sure she’ll start with her usual scold and wagging finger.
But, to my surprise, she doesn’t.
“He’s getting help y’know. He’s going to counseling and he’s looking for work!” and she puckered up proud in a That’s my boy! way and the kid smiled back.
He wasn’t crying, but it felt like he was on his way. It was several stages before a choking voice and tears, but there was this faint, faint tremble in the back of his throat. And maybe I’m the only one that heard it.
“I’ve been thinking about getting clean too-” and he paused, shaking his head. ”Probably need therapy and helluva lot of more money than I’m making though!” And he laughed, but I still heard the tremble.
As I sat there, silently, I felt myself torn between really loving this woman and wanting to kick her out. Here she had prayed for years for her boy to get help and he finally was, but still… it was like she was throwing it in his best friends face.
Without diving into too many details, the kid’s folks are undocumented, leaving him screwed for any government services that might assist in this sort of thing.
In other words, it’s his hand getting slapped away for the hundred thousandth time.
And isn’t that the way this bullshit world works?
Kid born into poverty. The very bottom of poverty because of a cruel clause. He grows up facing the backside of the world and when he tries to dull the despair, he gets bound down by an abducting addiction. One with many ways out but no way to pay for them-
And these are the moments I question the pledge of freedom and justice for All.
And these are the moments I question God’s goodness for All.
I looked over at the mom. A devote Christian woman, but the Bible thumper type. The kind that growls. The kind that isn’t always kind to kids like this.
But as if a light bulb flicked on, she popped open her eyes and said,
“Come to church with me on Sunday! We got the Minnesota Teen Challenge choir singing and they’ll be talking about the help that you might want. It’s a really great thing y’know, you don’t have to pay a dime, they have different programs to clean you out.”
Notably, she did not throw scripture in his face or give a quick evangelical cliché. She did what we do every day with these kids. She gave him options.
And there was a slight lighten of his face. It wasn’t so much hope as it was curiosity. Possibility. Free help. Freedom.
And isn’t that the way God works? Isn’t he more angry about the fallout of injustice than the broken twisted souls of oppressors? Isn’t he ready to step in, speak to, speak through the most imperfect of people? Can I equate the cold world with He who stepped into our boots and kicked temple tables over? He who loves the least and promises that their day will come?
This psalm is graphic, but in the end its about injustice and a God that hates injustice. A God that falls to the floor breaking over this screwed up world that turns its back on kids like this, keeping them out in the cold. And it’s about a God that steps into it. Really deep into this dump, curling up with us until we’re ready.