Today as I was reading through Psalm 17 I was struck by the psalmist’s language in vv. 6&7:
“I am praying to you because I know you will answer, O God. Bend down and listen as I pray. Show me your unfailing love in wonderful ways.”
The context of this prayer begins with David asking God to search his heart and declare is motives pure, “Pay attention to my prayer for it comes from an honest heart. Declare me innocent, for you know those who do right” (v. 1a-2). After praising God for his faithfulness in hearing and acting, David asks for the Lord’s favor, “Guard me as the apple of your eye” (v. 8). Then David lets loose in an emotionally charged rant about the character of those who oppose him and asks the Lord to, “…bring them to their knees!” and asks for God’s judgment to flow down on generations of their children (vv. 13-14b).
It might be appropriate to pause and reflex here for a second. It seems that the “wonderful ways” that David wishes for God to show his “unfailing love” is the utter annihilation of his naysayers. One has to ask: would David’s “murderous enemies”, as he describes them, also perceive the type of action that David is requesting of God as his “unfailing love”? I don’t imagine so.
Does God answer this kind of prayer? I believe that God acts in this world in judgment. I believe the Scriptures give plenty of examples of God wrath being displayed in mighty works of judgment. But one has to ask: what is the goal, the end-game if you will, of God acting in judgement? I think the overwhelming witness of Scripture is that even God’s judgment is an action of love; even God’s wrath has a redemptive and restorative intention. I doesn’t seem to me that it would be the will of God to rain down destructive force on a person on people with compounding generational “punishment” regardless of that person’s or peoples’ religious or political affiliation.
The real question being asked here is which attribute of God is logically preeminent, his sovereign judgment or his love? God is most certainly sovereign and God most certainly judges, the question is: do is his sovereign will and his judging action logically precede of follow his love? 1 John 4:8 is says, “God is love.” It is fair then to say that all that God does is conditioned by or motivated from his essential loving nature. That is to say, even when God judges, even when God’s wrath is on display, it has the loving goal of other-empowering benevolent love. Even when judgment is painful or uncomfortable it always has the goal of our purification and restoration not destruction–that is the devil’s goal.
So, while it is fair to appreciate David’s emotional vulnerability and to be grateful that we get to see that even ‘a man after God’s own heart’ struggles with the desire for retributive justice. We would be better in our prayers to ask that even our enemies would turn from their wicked ways and find life, freedom, healing, and wholeness in the gracious love of God. Lets take our cue from Christ and love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44).
I think this is why David ends his psalm the way he does, “But because I have done what is right, I will see you. When I awake, I will be fully satisfied, for I will see you face to face” (v. 15 emphasis added). Ultimately David knows that the person he has to worry about is himself. While he does not hide the way he feels about the “wicked people” that surround him, he knows that true satisfaction is not found in the destruction of the people we don’t like. True satisfaction is found in the unfailing love of God and the wonderful ways he transforms us into his likeness.