Let’s pray as we begin:
Father, Thank you for loving all of us and for loving this world.
This is hard stuff tonight. We need your help.
Teach us to love people and to love life as passionately as you do.
Guide us tonight—we pray and plead. Amen.
We’re going to be looking at Psalm 5 tonight.
Over the last few months, we’ve been working our way through some of the psalms. We had worked through the first four and then last time we actually jumped ahead to Psalms 15 and 16.
Psalm 16 was suggested by the church calendar for the week after Easter—
Probably something to do with startling good news
that God did not abandon Jesus to the realm of the dead
and the jaw-dropping promise that God will not abandon us to the realm of the dead.
Probably something to do with that.
But tonight I want us to go back to Psalm 5:
For the director of music. For pipes. A psalm of David.
Listen to my words, Lord,
consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, Lord, detest.
But I, by your great love,
can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
toward your holy temple.
Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies—
make your way straight before me.
Not a word from their mouth can be trusted;
their heart is filled with malice.
Their throat is an open grave;
with their tongues they tell lies.
Declare them guilty, O God!
Let their intrigues be their downfall.
Banish them for their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
WHO DOES GOD HATE?
What we’ve got here according to verse 3 is a morning prayer.
It’s a prayer where we entrust our day and our life to an authority above us.
To our God and our King (v2).
At its heart, this an emotionally-charged prayer
asking for God to deliver us from those who would who would do us evil
and that God would faithfully (in his “righteousness”) lead us
into lives of safety and gladness and song.
But before we can really pray this psalm,
I think we need to recognize a potential land mine in the text.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the prayer—it’s something wrong with our thinking.
It was right around verses 4, 5 and 6.
Wickedness doesn’t please God. (v4)
He doesn’t approve of evil.
Well, that’s good—nothing too scary there.
Evil people are not welcome in his presence. (v4)
Alright. That seems to make sense.
But here then…
“You hate all who do wrong.” (v5)
God hates all.
All who do wrong.
We find this kind of explosive language again in Psalm 11:
The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
his eyes examine them.
The Lord examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot. (v4-6)
God hates. What do we do with this?
You don’t have to look very far in the world of Christianity—watch cable news, sample certain scholars, search YouTube—to find some people who almost seem celebrate this.
“Yes,” they say. “God hates certain people. God detests certain people.
In fact, God seems to have made certain people for the purpose of hating them.”
The way that some people read these parts of these two psalms,
God seems to love to loathe certain people.
God intends certain people for his animosity,
forms certain people for his fury,
hates and damns certain people for his honor and glory.
God displays his unmerited mercy and grace to those whom he chooses,
but he also displays a righteous hatred towards the rest of humanity.
Over the past decade, a small, fringe church in Topeka made this rather infamous. Their signs say it all: if you’re wrestling with your sexual-orientation—guess what?—God hates you.
But it’s not just fringe churches. In the words of one popular, best-selling pastor from an influential mega-church in Seattle: “God hates, right now, personally, objectively hates some of you.” That’s not a quote ripped out of context. If you’re taking too long get your act together, taking too long to acknowledge God’s love—guess what?—God hates you.
Are they right? Is that what this means?
Is God’s will ill will for certain people?
Towards “all who do wrong”?
And how do we know who that means?
Because I’m pretty sure that I do wrong. (v5)
I’m pretty sure that I’m not always honest. (v6)
I know my own heart.
I know my deceitfulness and arrogance.
Wow. If there’s someone God hates, I’m pretty sure it’s me.
What do we make of this?
And we need to remember that this a prayer of David—
that famous warrior-poet who became king of ancient Israel.
When we were looking at Psalm 3, we spent a few minutes thinking about the life of David.
Well, there’s an interesting little sub-story that threads its way through David’s story.
It’s the story of a guy named Shimei.
(2 Sam 16:7-12)
At one point during his kingship, David’s son overthrows his kingdom,
and David finds himself fleeing for his life.
While he’s passing through a certain village,
this guy named Shimei comes running toward David.
Calling down curses on David.
Throwing rocks at David.
Kicking David while he’s down.
Shimei is from the same family as the king before David,
and from his perspective, David is getting exactly what he deserves.
One of David’s men asks, “Hey, you want me to off him?”
And David says no.
Because at this point, David thinks this guy might be right.
(2 Sam 19:16-23)
A few chapters later, this rebellion is squashed and David is restored to the throne.
Again Shimei comes running toward David.
But this time he’s pleading for his life.
He’s confessing that he did wrong.
He’s begging for a pardon.
Again, David is asked, “Really—you want me to off him?”
What does David do?
Shimei wasn’t right. God hadn’t left David.
But David shows mercy to Shimei.
More than that—David swears with an oath that he won’t kill Shimei.
(1 King 2:8-9)
But years later, when he’s about to die, do know what David tells his son, Solomon?
Do you know what David’s last words are?
He brings Solomon close and whispers in his ear, “I want you… kill Shimei.”
“Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.”
David asks for a hit-job from his deathbed.
With his dying words, David breaks his oath to Shimei,
he does wrong, he makes himself a liar,
he’s bloodthirsty and deceitful and violent.
His tongue told lies. His throat swallowed Shimei like an open grave.
If we read David’s prayer in the rigid way that some people suggest,
if we make emotionally-charged prayers like this the defining center of what God is like,
not only do I think God probably hates me,
I think God probably hates David.
A BETTER CENTER
For me, sermons don’t get much more practical than this.
I’m trying to make sense of this ancient text because I’m trying to make sense this world.
Trying to understand how to think about this God because I’m supposed to be like this God.
Trying to learn to pray because I’m trying to learn to live.
If God hates certain people (who conveniently aren’t us: certain people who do “real” wrong)
and if I’m supposed to be like this god (to be holy as he is holy)
then maybe I’m supposed to hate those people too.
This (of course) clues us into the fact that we might need reevaluate the way we’re approaching the psalms.
Reading the Bible rigidly is not the same as reading the Bible seriously.
We need a better center.
A better center to pray from.
A better center to live from.
If we start building our worldview and our understanding of God on one or two phrases in the middle of emotionally charged prayers—we wind up with really a really distorted picture of the universe.
And I think when we pray these “hate bits” of David’s prayer with fervor or intensity and relish, we’re praying something that circles back on us.
One of the earliest Christians, named Paul, wrote a letter to some fellow Jesus-followers in the city of Rome. He actually tapped into part of this psalm to make the exact same point. In a flourish of quotations he includes:
Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. (Rom 3:13a)
Then he taps into another psalm (Ps 14):
There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Rom 3:10-12)
And then he follows it up with:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law,
so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. (Rom 3.19)
Among the reasons that God gave “instruction” to people in history,
why God gave “the law”—the Torah—to ancient Israel,
the point of choosing and electing them in the first place,
was to silence every mouth.
His instruction was meant to silence.
When we catch a glimpse of ultimate truth, beauty, goodness and justice—
it should shut us up.
Because the power of evil, the power of sin,
has the entire world in its grip. (Rom 3:9)
Devout Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians,
humanistic philosophers, ardent atheists, empirical skeptics,
the rich, the poor, the middle class,
war criminals, kindergarten teachers,
and even Israel’s famous warrior-poet—
everyone everywhere finds some kind of evil at work within them.
And so Paul, in the light of God-revealed-in-Jesus, is traveling around the Roman world declaring that God hates us all.
Of course not. Just the opposite.
God has showed his hand.
He loves everyone everywhere.
He’s willing to die for the world.
The earliest Christians understood the self-giving death of Jesus
to be place where God himself tasted death for everyone (Heb 2:9, 14-15)
where all the evil of the entire world was been taken care of (1 Jn 2:2)
and where God demonstrated his love for his enemies (Rom 5:8-10)
As we’re wrestling with how to make sense of Scripture,
as we’re wondering how to understand God,
pondering what it means to pray and what it means to live,
Jesus is our better center.
We’re not play origami with Scripture—not trying to fold it into whatever shape we want.
We’re trying to really hear Scripture—trying to really understand it in the light of Jesus.
Make no mistake—God really is against evil.
The Hebrew word that gets translated “hate” in verse 5 is the word śānē’.
And that’s what it means. “Against.”
An Old Testament scholar, John Goldingay, says that translating śānē’ as hate is “misleading.” In his words, śānē’ is more about “hostility in action more than negativity in attitude.”
We hear “hate” and we immediately think God’s attitude towards us.
We think God’s emotional state towards us.
That he’s just sick of us; that he doesn’t like us.
But it’s not that. This word “hate” is about God’s posture—about what God does.
When the Bible is talking God’s “hate,” it’s talking about God’s active, aggressive action against evil.
God is actively against evil. And God is actively against those doing evil.
But the reason he’s actively against evil is because he desperately loves.
He loves his creation. He wants the best for his creation.
He loves even those who are doing evil.
He loves even you. He loves even me.
God’s hate is good news.
God is actively, aggressively against the evil within this world
because he passionately, desperately loves this world.
God is actively, aggressively against the evil within me
because he passionately, desperately loves me.
And let’s be clear about—God’s supreme aggression against evil is self-sacrificing love.
God’s supreme posture of hatred against evil is arms outstretched on a cross
as he destroys evil by taking it into himself.
Our God crucified—that’s the center.
That’s what defuses our potential misunderstanding about this prayer.
That’s what defuses our potential misunderstanding about what God is like.
God is like Jesus—he’s dying to deliver his enemies from evil.
FOLLOWING THE WAY
The middle of this prayer (v8) asks God to make his way straight before us—for him to lead us.
What might that look like?
Three thoughts as we close:
1) We’re invited to speak honestly.
When I’m alone and praying, a lot of times I find myself not quite saying what I really feel.
I end up trying to be diplomatic with God.
I’m alone. In prayer. And still pretending.
I end up saying what I think I’m supposed to say.
Pretending to be the only me that I can imagine God loving.
But when I’m being diplomatic with God,
I don’t think I’m trusting God.
Prayer is a safe place.
The place where I can actually acknowledge all that I’m thinking and feeling.
The place where I can voice my deep sense that I’ve been wronged and I need justice
(that something needs to be done about this)
or perhaps even just voice my irrational anger
and where I can bring it before God and say “Declare them guilty.”
Prayer is the place for transparency, not diplomacy.
I need psalms like this to remind me that God wants me to give voice to what’s really inside me.
The place where we give God our pain and anxiety, our anger and violence, our despair and distrust—where we get transparent about our lives—and where we trust him with of it.
It’s the place where I’m invited to see myself as clearly as God always sees me,
and to trust in his continued love for me.
2) We’re invited to silence often.
In Jesus, we have the clearest picture that God could give us of what God is like.
God the Son is the one against whom humanity did its worst—
against whom all our hearts were filled with malice and all our tongues told lies.
The way that Paul understood this psalm is probably the way we should.
because every one of us in some way is the enemy, the sinner, the rebel.
But instead of banishing us—instead declaring us guilty—the cry we hear from the cross is:
“Father, forgive them…” (Lk 23:34a)
Coming before a crucified God ought to silence us.
What if the church was the place where we all just shut up?
Whatever if wherever the church went, accusations and condemnations stopped?
What if we were a community that stopped pointed at others and saying,
“Declare them (them!) guilty”
but continually looked at Jesus and said,
the only way I’ve got any chance of entering into life is “by your great love” (v7).
What if people were as safe around you as you are around God?
3) We are invited to sing always
Prayer often begins with “consider my lament” (v1).
But I think it’s telling that a song emerges from the sobbing (v11).
The “blessed life”—the truly happy life—does not mean a life without lament. Rather it’s a life of learning to bring our pain and our struggle and our deepest selves to Jesus (learning to take refuge in him) and—with him—learning to sing.
God does not silence us to condemn us.
He silences us so we can hear his song of grace
and so we can learn to sing
God really does hate—and it’s good news.
He hates everything that’s destroying you (cf. Rev 11:18).
I think a lot of our pain in life comes when we’re actually love something God hates—
when we love something that’s destroying us.
God is actively, aggressively against everything that’s stifling your singing.
So as we go this evening,
may your tongue be silent in speaking hate to anyone,
may your soul sing of God’s unending love and free forgiveness,
and may your life embody God passion against whatever stifles a world full of song.