Lots of psalms appeal to God against enemies, and Psalm 36 kicks off by characterising those who have sold out to sinful attitudes that impact members of their community. Most of these threats arise from neighbours, criminals, rivals and political conspirators. Then there are invading armies.
Many in South Africa live in fear because of the violence that surrounds them. This violence erupts in the home against wives and children, in rapes, in xenophobic attacks, in shootings at taxi ranks, between gangs over drugs, and in political assassinations. Violence is a sickness that afflicts South Africa. Sin is real and reflected in every newspaper and TV cast. I drive past the Tokai forest fence where the coloured ribbons remind me of the eruption of rape and murder in our society even as I head for church.
The roots of all this violence can be analysed in sociological terms and generational patterns, sometimes very helpfully, but as Psalm 36 tells it, the fundamental root of human-on-human violence is sin starting with the sinful choice to disregard God himself.
“Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts
They have no fear of God at all ” (vs 1)
Those wanting to go God’s way, in the positive ‘fear of the LORD’, know that this is not being frightened of God, but rather is the feeling of respect and reverence for the Lord in the light of His steadfast love.
In fact, the focus of Psalm 36 is not on the threatening human beings so much as on the Lord and His steadfast commitment (see vs 5–10).
“Your unfailing love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens
your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.” (vs 5)
“You are the fountain of life
the light by which we see.” (vs 9)
The story has moved on since the psalmist’s times but criminal violence is still with us. So the unfailing love of the Lord is what we need to hold onto at our core and onto Jesus’ promise of life and of raising us from the dead, based on His own suffering of violence and amazing resurrection.
Because—read Acts—the Lord may not protect us from the sinful behaviour of the violent, be they drunk drivers or armed robbers. But come what may, Jesus, and only Jesus, offers us life and His love, steadfastly, on-goingly, forever.