Monday, October 27, 2008

A Prayer for Vindication

"Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation" begins Psalm 43. This is an entreaty in the courtroom of God by one who has been abused and neglected. To use modern courtroom parlance, the Psalmist calls upon God to be both lawyer (plead my case) and judge (the word translated "vindicate" means to judge). The Psalmist trusts that God will intervene and uphold justice as a righteous judge by finding in favor of the Psalmist and thereby defending him against the attacks of his enemies. In v.3, the Psalmist asks God to send out God's light and truth, as if they are the ones who will carry God's verdict into the world, as if they are the messengers of God's just verdict. This is turn leads the Psalmist to worship God and to have his hope in God revived because he trusts that God will be the righteous judge who will vindicate him against his enemies.

Of course, the image of God as judge carries very different connotations for most 21st century Americans. In our history, it has often been an image used to scare people into believing in God. We are reminded that we hang but by a single weak strand over the fires of hell as "sinners in the hands of angry God". The image of God as judge evokes wrathful images of a God who is eager to violently punish sinners and is only kept from doing so by the violent death of his son.

But this is not what this image meant to the people of Israel. The image of God as a righteous judge was a hopeful image because it meant that the weak and disadvantaged would not be mistreated and abused. Due to God's righteousness, he would not side with the rich and powerful as so many human judges always did. God would defend the cause of the oppressed against the ungodly. Righteous judgment, therefore, means liberation and deliverance from oppression.

The extent to which we fail to see this scriptural image of God as judge and deliverer is testament to the extent that we have failed to understand the social and political dimensions of the gospel. God wants us to seek his justice for our world. The inclusion of this Psalm in the Psalter shows that we can even challenge God on the matter. The Psalmist is an example for us of how we might boldly call upon God to enact his justice in our world. However, it is worth explicitely stating here that is must be his justice and not our own poor attempts at mere retribution. Truly placing our hope in God means that we will live justly but it does not mean that we will violently impose our understanding of justice on others. The Psalmist offers his bold prayer and then allows God's light and truth to lead him back to worship. Likewise, we must continually pray for God's justice to become a reality in our world and allow God's light and truth to lead us to worship him as we patiently await his justice in our world.

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