People typically refrain in real life from confronting evil and rebuking evildoers, face-to-face or in prayer. This is very much unlike what one finds in both the Old and New Testaments, where “the good guys” are reported to have done precisely this and to have prayed in an in-your-face way (e.g., Psalms 5, 7, 9, 10, 17, 25, 28, 31, 35, 40, 41, 54, 55, 56, 58, 59, 63, 68, 69, 70, 71, 74, 79, 83, 94, 104, and 109; Matthew 23; Luke 17:3-4; Gal 1:8; 2 Tim 4:14). People also struggle with biblical injunctions such as that found in Rev 18:20, wherein the good guys are called upon to celebrate the downfall of evildoers.
I wonder whether the abject resignation in the face of evil so characteristic of “enlightened” and “educated” people is nothing more than an expression of social location. Did I mention that once upon a time, I read deeply in Marxist authors, and was a member of the Italian Communist party? Old habits die hard. Excuse me if I harbor deep suspicions. I know what a "padrone" looks like. All I have to do is look into a mirror.
If Christianity amounts to nothing more than knowing that I am a turd no less than the next guy, and therefore I cannot call God’s judgment down upon the one who seeks to harm me, or seeks to harm another, something, I think, has gone horribly wrong. The psalmists call judgment down upon those who harm the contextually innocent, including themselves, knowing full well that they would be judged by the same standard. Context, of course, is important. In the process, they knowingly exposed themselves to great risk even as they sought salvation from God’s hand. It is also the practice of the psalmists to engage in auto-imprecation: “May God do so-and-so to me, if I am lying.”
But we are unwilling to curse others or put ourselves under a curse. Why should we? Why risk anything of the sort? We are doing fine as it is. It is the absence of conflict that we desire most of all, and we will sacrifice anything and everything to maintain that absence.
Even justice. Even reconciliation – which is only possible in the first place after an honest knock-down fight.
The psalms are the expression of those who were in a very different place. They longed for peace, but would not buy it at the price of forfeiting justice. Unless we understand this, we understand nothing at all.
Key graphs from Psalm 35:
1 1 רִיבָה יְהוָה אֶת־יְרִיבַי
2 2 הַחֲזֵק מָגֵן וְצִנָּה
3 3 וְהָרֵק חֲנִית וּסְגֹר
4 אֱמֹר לְנַפְשִׁי
1 1 Oppose, יהוה, my opponents,
attack my attackers!
2 2 Take hold of shield and buckler,
rise to my aid!
3 3 Take up spear and axe
and meet my pursuers!
4 Tell me to my heart:
“I am your deliverance.”
5 4 יֵבֹשׁוּ וְיִכָּלְמוּ
6 יִסֹּגוּ אָחוֹר וְיַחְפְּרוּ
7 5 יִהְיוּ כְּמֹץ לִפְנֵי־רוּחַ
וּמַלְאַךְ יְהוָה דּוֹחֶה
8 6 יְהִי־דַרְכָּם חֹשֶׁךְ וַחֲלַקְלַקּוֹת
וּמַלְאַךְ יְהוָה רֹדְפָם
5 4 Let those who seek my life
be shamed and disgraced;
6 let those who plan my harm
fall back and go pale!
7 5 Let them be like chaff before wind,
יהוה’s angel the driver;
8 6 let their way turn dark and slippery,
יהוה’s angel their pursuer!
23 17 אֲדֹנָי כַּמָּה תִּרְאֶה
הָשִׁיבָה נַפְשִׁי מִשֹּׁאֵיהֶ֯ם מִשֹּׁאֲגִי֯ם
24 18 אוֹדְךָ בְּקָהָל רָב
בְּעַם עָצוּם אֲהַלְלֶךָּ
25 19 אַל־יִשְׂמְחוּ לִי
26 שֹׂנְאַי חִנָּם
27 20 כִּי־לֹא שָׁלוֹם יְדַבֵּרוּ
וְעַל֯ רִגְעֵי־אֶרֶץ יַעֲ֯לוּ
28 דִּבְרֵי מִרְמוֹת יַחֲשֹׁבוּן
21 וַיַּרְחִיבוּ עָלַי פִּיהֶם
29 אָמְרוּ הֶאָח הֶאָח
23 17 Lord, how long will you look on?
Rescue my life from roaring beasts,
my precious life from lions!
24 18 I will acclaim you in a great assembly,
praise you in a mighty crowd.
25 19 Do not let my faithless enemies
exult over me;
26 my wanton foes
leer with the eye.
27 20 Their speech is not peaceable,
they attack the land’s quiet ones;
28 they plot deceitful acts,
21 they opened their mouth against me;
29 they said, “Aha! Aha!
Our eyes have seen it.”
UPDATE: Thoughts from a young, slightly cantankerous, aspiring theologian.