Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Psalm About Bad People

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero?
    Why do you boast all day long,
    you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?
You who practice deceit,
    your tongue plots destruction;
    it is like a sharpened razor.
You love evil rather than good,
    falsehood rather than speaking the truth.
You love every harmful word,
    you deceitful tongue!
Thus begins Psalm 52, a psalm about bad people. (Specifically, David wrote this psalm about Doeg the Edomite, who reported to Saul how the priests had helped David, so then Saul came and ordered Doeg to kill the priests and their whole town. It was bad. See 1 Samuel 22.)

So in this psalm, David first paints a picture of the evilness of evil people, then predicts God's punishment on them, and contrasts this with David's status as trusting in God and protected by God.

It's realistic. There are bad people who do bad things, and David doesn't ignore that or try to pretend it's okay. And though the situation was bad, he trusts in God's justice. Eventually God will make it right. Eventually evil will be punished.

Bad people do bad things, but we must trust in God, who will eventually make it right. That's the message of Psalm 52.


But... it's not that simple.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could divide the world into "good people" and "bad people"? In the "bad people" category we have Hitler, corrupt government officials, murderers, rapists, scammers who prey on the poor, internet trolls, people who disagree with me... Wouldn't that make the world so simple, to judge people and decide who belongs in the "bad people" category, and refuse to associate with them or listen to them- seeing them as motivated only by evil, unable to be reasoned with, deserving of nothing but punishment?

And I'm ashamed to admit I do this too. On the internet, where there are so many people and we know so little about each of them, it's so easy to decide "oh this is a bad person, this person's not on our side" when I read a blog post or a tweet that I disagree with. It's so easy to dismiss an entire complex human being, to judge them as not worth interacting with, just because I don't like one particular thing that they said.

But Jesus said "love your enemies." And I'm trying. I wish I was better at it, but I'm trying.

But let's get back to Psalm 52 and our friend Doeg the Edomite. I certainly believe David is justified in writing these things about him- about how he loves evil and God will punish him- certainly in a situation like that, when Doeg had murdered innocent people, these are definitely appropriate things to say. But that can't be the entire story- that can't be all there is to say about "bad people."

We must speak out against evil, against harmful ideas. We must work to help others and protect those who are vulnerable. We must, as a society, stop criminals and do our best to create an environment where people are safe and free.

BUT can we do it while still valuing the "bad people" as people- complex human beings created in the image of God? Can we separate out what a person says and does and strongly condemn those, but still love and value the person? Can we act out of love, to protect those who might be harmed by the "bad people", instead of out of anger and revenge?

Well gosh that's tricky.

But Jesus said "love your enemies" and "do not judge." And if we are Christians then we must follow his example, motivated by love more than anything else.

Even for the "bad people."


This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 52. To read other people's posts, click here: Seeing a Psalm in Context.


  1. Great thoughts here! It would be so simple if we could divide and judge people, wouldn't it? One thing I do want to give David credit for is that he took his judgments to God instead of keeping them in his own hands. That's one thing I need to work on. We are human, which means I think we will judge people and not love them well. But when that happens, do we take the matter to God, trusting in His justice, or do we keep it in our own hearts and hands?

    I love your reminder that we are complex human beings. I often think about how our intentions and others' perceptions do not often match. I need to give people the benefit of the doubt more often, and work to love them, even when they frustrate me.

  2. Yeah. It's hard, but we have to love people and be like Jesus. :)

  3. Really interesting since I JUST HAD THIS CONVERSATION WITH SOMEONE! At least, about people on the internet and realizing that there is an imperfect, perhaps even lovable, person, just like you and me, behind the keys. I echo what Steph said about us being complex, a mix of good and evil. I believe it was Brennan Manning who said about himself- "I am an Angel with an incredible capacity for beer", Brennan, was a former alcoholic and a fraud to his church and had destroyed relationships with those closest to him.

    Yet, I would not be where I am today without him. He saved my faith time after time, his voice, for me, communicated to my very heart about God's love for me. When I read your post, I thought of him.

    Thank you for this!

  4. You penned my thoughts here in a way I could not find words for (hence the reason I wrote about the Olive Tree). I commend you for not being ashamed of sharing your compassion for all people.