The Psalmist says it three times: do not fret because of the wicked; do not fret over those who prosper in their evil ways; do not fret—it leads only to evil. I’ve been trying to listen to the Psalmist, but I have been fretting—visibly anxious, agitated, inflamed, talking back to my TV—fretting about what’s going on in the U.S. government right now. I fret that the truth will not be found because folks will interpret the facts in different ways, depending on their point of view. I fret that people will get away with what I consider to be wrong-doing. And it makes crazy. I want there to be justice. I am in no position to do anything to see that justice is done. It is not in my power. Which is part of why I fret. I feel powerless and I don’t trust the people who have the power to do justice.
And the Psalmist says “just chill out. Don’t spend your time and energy fretting over people who get away with all kind of wrong-doing, who propagate injustices, who hurt you, or hurt others, who lie and cheat and steal to get ahead and who appear to prosper.” Fretting is not the same as caring passionately about goodness and kindness and justice and spending your time and energy on these. Caring passionately is productive. Fretting is getting yourself in knots, and ending up with a tension headache, and thinking hateful, murderous thoughts toward folk you think are getting away with murder.
Says the Psalmist, “fretting only leads to more evil, it multiplies bad energy and motivates more hurtful behavior. It isn’t good for you, or me, and it isn’t good for human relations. We spend ourselves for nothing.” I do get that. There are good psychological, emotional, spiritual and relational reasons for not fretting about “evil-doers.” And, besides all this, says the Psalmist, “The wicked will wither away like parsley with the first frost, or grass during a drought. The evil they do and the harm they cause are real. But they will not prevail. Their success and prosperity are an illusion. God will do justice. God will turn things round right and vindicate the cause of the innocents and prosper those who have lived out of God’s loving-kindness.” If you trust that God is and will be faithful, that God will do justice, then you will be fret-free and peace-full regarding the those who do evil, and able to focus entirely on just doing what is good. Leave it in God’s hand, let it go, focus on the things that give life and renew hope in the promise that God is re-creating the world in beauty and balance and blessedness. I wish this were easy to do.
“How long, O Lord, shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence! And you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble.” If you live long enough, you will come to your “How long, O Lord, shall I cry for help and you will not listen?” When the death of a loved ones leaves you raw and aching. When the physical pain will not subside. When loneliness gnaws at your heart. When economic poverty persists. When you pour yourself into doing what is good and just and it seems only to spark greater resistance. How long, O Lord, shall I cry for help and you will not listen; or cry Violence! And you will not save?
The situation of the prophet Habakkuk makes the stuff I am fretting about look like a tiny hang nail. He and the ancient people of Israel have lost everything to a foreign power. They are prisoners of war, refugees, ripped from their homes, their land, their normal lives. And God has gone silent. Their world has gone to hell in a hand basket and God is doing nothing to make things right again. Not punishing the evil doers. Not intervening in the people’s suffering. The prophet’s trust in God is tested because God is not acting in ways that seem trustworthy. Where are you God? Do you see? Are you listening? Do you care? Why do you tolerate human violence? What are you doing to make things right? How long, O God, how long?
At the age of 15, Elie Wiesel, a Romanian Jew was deported with his family to one of Hitler’s death camps. He survived. In his book title Night Wiesel, tells the story of the hanging of a young boy. Standing in the crowd, forced to watch the execution, he hears a voice behind him ask, “For God’s sake, where is God?” In response to the question he writes, “…from within me, I heard a voice answer: “Where is He? This is where – hanging here from the gallows….”
In the years following the Holocaust, during which an estimated 11 million people were killed in state sponsored genocide—genocide that Hitler believed was supported by the Bible—German theologians began to say that God was dead. Their pronouncement shook Christians throughout the world to the core. It was heretical to make such a claim. What these German Christians meant was that the God that had been perceived and perpetuated by the Biblically literal Christians had died at the death camps. The tribal God who first chose the Jews but then turned against them and chose Christians as God’s special people. The violent God who condemns queer people. The vengeful God who with a mighty arm destroys the enemies of the so-called people of God. These German theologians who witnessed the atrocities of Nazi Germany and the church’s support of Hitler’s policies declared that the operative understanding and the destructive construction of God was dead.
And they located the death of this God, this idea of God, on the cross where Jesus is executed. They held to the Christian claim that Jesus is both fully God and fully human. And on the cross, in the death that Jesus willingly accepts, these theologians declare that the true character of God is revealed. The false, tribal, violent, vengeful God is put to death. In the cross of Jesus, God is revealed as the One who, in love, stands in solidarity with the marginalized, the powerless, the lynched, the humiliated, the innocent victims of human sin and evil. We know and confess that the cross confronts us with a moral mandate to live out God’s solidarity with victims, and to stand with God against the life-destroying powers of the world.
And we do this by living in the way of the cross. We do this by emptying ourselves of our own ego needs, our need to have our own way, our need to succeed in the ways that the world measures success, our need to protect and preserve ourselves and our stuff, our power and our privilege. We stand with God by living in vulnerable, self-giving love, and not fretting, not spending our energy worrying over the evil doers.
It is not easy to live this way. It is not always easy to trust that God is in the mix. That God’s vision and purpose for the world are being worked out. There will be days of doubt and struggle. Days of wishing that God would act swiftly, with a mighty arm, to put down those who use their power to hurt and destroy and to raise up those who are beaten down. Days of crying out, “How long, O Lord, how long? Where are you God?” So we gather here every week, to be hear the story of a vulnerable, divine love that dies and rises. A divine love that whispers hope within us. A divine love that we eat and drink together, with the Spirit of Jesus, so that we can rise to new, true, unending, unfret-full life. So may it be. Hallelujah. Amen.