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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Thursday, March 25

I will sing of loyalty and of justice; to you, O Lord, I will sing. Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all evildoers from the city of the Lord.
—Psalm 101: 1, 8

Psalm 101 may be my least favorite. I realize that at its heart is a song of thanksgiving by one who has found a way of living a life of sincere commitment. He sings praises of mercy and justice and strives to "follow a blameless course." Filled with a vision of faithful life, he then looks outside himself and sees so much unfaithfulness, he is determined to clean it up.

He hates evildoers; he will separate himself from the crooked; he will destroy slanderers; he will not abide the proud; his servants will only be the blameless. He closes, "I will soon destroy all the wicked in the land, that I may root out all evildoers from the city of the Lord."

But I wonder. Will this lead to genocide in the name of the Lord?

It's important to read psalms like this. It doesn't help to dismiss them simply by imposing our own "more enlightened" views. This is historical learning. It is rough, violent and complicated. These kinds of texts need to speak to us, especially when they say what we don't want to hear.

The person who wrote this is a person like me. He is an idealist who loves God and wants to follow God faithfully. More than that, he bristles at all that injures the word and breaks communion with God and humanity. He wants to do something about that. (So do I!) And like me, in his crusading self-righteousness, he can crash around trying to destroy evil and do more harm than good.

It is easy to be caught in the cycles of violence, and people of ideals and faith are particularly vulnerable. All reading of scripture has to come under the judgment of Christ. In his light, I must refuse the violent fantasies before me.

These difficult readings also serve as warnings. If the Biblical writers, inspired as they are by God's Holy Spirit, can also be caught by the terror and strangeness of faith, there is no reason why I may not be as fragile and broken in my own hurt and zealousness. In Christ, God takes hold of all of this messy and violent history and nails it to the cross. That's how these circles of violence can be broken.

Heal our violent thoughts, O God, with the gentleness of Jesus, who absorbed all our hostility, returning only love, which triumphs over all.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2005.