“Don’t get upset over evildoers; don’t be jealous of those who do wrong, because they will fade fast, like grass; they will wither like green vegetables.”
Psalm 37:1, 2 (Common English Bible)
I received an email this week from a dear friend and member of this church. With considerable distress he wrote that it now appeared that the faith he holds so dear – the Christian faith – has been “high jacked” by an intolerant segment of the larger Christian Church in our nation. I know this man’s heart. He does not disparage those who hold a different view of scripture – or the faith – from him. In fact, he has shared his conviction that the local church is the richer due to different theological positions held by the membership; that is, the church is the richer if we are humble enough to truly listen to one another. The cause of his current distress is that there seems to be a segment of people who vilify those who disagree with them. They are absolutely convinced that their viewpoint is the correct one and humility has not been invited to the conversation.
The author of Psalm 37 offers a cure for this man’s distress: “Trust the Lord and do good.”[i]The instruction offered here is considerably richer than a cursory glance may offer. Throughout the Old Testament the word which is here translated “trust” is translated “careless.” Insert this translation and what is heard is, “Be careless in the Lord!” Rather than carrying a weight of concern for what intolerant, fundamentalist Christians may say to us, let our “care” be absent. As J. H. Jowett so cleverly expresses it, we are to be as careless little children running about the house in the assurance of their father’s care and love.[ii]The responsibility for the intolerance that causes us distress belongs to God, not us. What is our responsibility, according to this third verse, is that we are to continue living as faithfully as we know how: to “do good.”
That closing instruction, “do good,” is not offered as a soft, cheerful ending to the weightier encouragement to “Trust the Lord.” The author of this Psalm has been where we are; has experienced our distress and anxiety over those who would distort our Christian witness with an intolerant view. It is precisely because we experience distress and anxiety that we are cautioned to be intentional with our response: “do good.” That is because distress and anxiety easily moves toward anger. And the natural result of anger is weakness rather than strength. Perhaps you have used the expression that someone is “hot under the collar” as I have. At such moments, unwise and irrational decisions can be made. It is then that our cause – our sense of justice – is not advanced. Our behavior does not vindicate us. The occasion is made worse than it was before.
Today, faithful Christians are under considerable pressure from groups who are intolerant and, sometimes, hateful toward those who hold a different position. The certain risk is that we join them in their hatred by our unmeasured response. Psalm 37 is a call to “cool the heat” and trust that God remains Lord. We may temporarily experience distress – even alarm – by the behavior of others. That is a signal that we care deeply about our faith and wish for an authentic witness to others. Yet, what an authentic witness requires at such moments is an unwavering confidence in God’s faithfulness and capacity to move all of us toward healing and wholeness. “Trust the Lord!” Assume that the river of God’s redemptive purposes is flowing even on the darkest day. It is this that will provide a cure for our distress.