Psalm 94 has always seemed a little out of place. The psalms that precede it and those that follow focus positively on worshiping the Lord. In fact, they sound a lot like the hymns we sing in worship. They recall God’s power over creation. They proclaim his salvation. Joy and gladness permeate their verses. We can almost hear the major chords melodiously driving the festive themes of these psalms.
But not Psalm 94. The writer of this psalm pleads with God to enact his vengeance. He describes the arrogance of the wicked. He recalls the brutality of the world and all the ways people take advantage of those who can’t fight back. We can almost hear the minor tones that sink us into the writer’s sad themes.
Most importantly, Psalm 94 asks the age old question: “How long…O Lord” (Ps. 94:3).
We are once again asking that question, too, as needless violence has wracked another community. If you are like me, you might be wondering how much more violence and hatred we can take. From schools to churches, shopping malls to movie theaters, so many have felt the horrific effects of violence and hatred and murder.
And yet, as much as we ache these days, we have to admit that sin has always led to violence. Cain’s rage led him to murder his brother, Abel. Esau pursued his brother, Jacob, intent on killing him. Moses’ anger led him to murder an Egyptian slave driver. Absalom took his vengeance out on his half-brother, Amnon.
Violence reared its ugly head during Jesus’ ministry, too. In Luke 13, we read about some people from Galilee who had traveled all the way to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the Lord. For one reason or another, Pontius Pilate lashed out against this group of Galileans and had them killed. In a melancholy tone, Luke writes that Pilate mixed the blood of the Galileans with the blood of their sacrifices.
And here we sit with the writer of Psalm 94, once again feeling helpless. If only we could help catch the assailants, or dry the tears of the victims, or protect our loved ones from the violence that now seems so common. It makes you want to cry out with the writer: “Rise up, O Judge of the earth” (Ps. 94:2).
Why doesn’t Jesus stop tomorrow’s violence today?
So why doesn’t he? Where is God when anger turns to violence? The disciples of Jesus day could have asked him that very question. After all, Jesus knew from eternity that Pontius Pilate would order those Galileans to be killed. He could have stopped it from happening. So why didn’t he? Why doesn’t Jesus stop tomorrow’s violence today?
Jesus didn’t come to this world to stop Pontius Pilate from laying his hands on innocent people. Jesus came as the innocent sacrifice that would be handed over into Pilate’s violent hands. In his infinite wisdom and love, Jesus knew that forcibly stopping violence in this world wouldn’t bring a single soul to heaven. Only Jesus’ death and resurrection could save us from our sins.
And let’s be honest about who we are. We are often tempted to use the words of Psalm 94 to look down on the arrogant, the braggarts, the oppressors, the murderers and the brutes. But we are guilty of those sins as well. My hatred for my brother is as damning as those sins of murder in the eyes of the Lord. That’s why, instead of stopping Pilate, Jesus walked right into his hands. That’s why Jesus kept his mouth shut in the face of all the lies and false accusations. Jesus allowed Pilate’s soldiers to shed his blood as the sacrifice for your sins. And that sacrifice was accomplished on the cross once for all.
And your loving Lord doesn’t stop there. Every day he feels your sadness. He understands the violence and the hatred that tears apart our communities and leaves families reeling. Most of all, your Savior promises to work through even these horrific moments for the good of those who love him.
The writer of Psalm 94 wants you to understand that your loving Lord is not oblivious to your pain and sadness. In fact, he asks, “The one who planted the ear — will he not hear? The one who formed the eye — will he not observe? The one who disciplines nations — will he not rebuke them?” (Ps. 94:9,10) And the understood answer to each one of those questions is “Yes!” God does hear your prayers — after all, he created the very ears on your head. God indeed does see your struggles — he formed the eyes with which you see. And God rebukes — because he is our God of justice, the one who perfectly disciplines.
The writer of Psalm 94 wants you to understand that your loving Lord is not oblivious to your pain and sadness.
All of this leads the writer to a beautiful conclusion: “Unless the Lord had been my helper, my soul would soon have dwelt in silence” (Ps. 94:17). The Lord is your helper. He will not desert you, even in crisis. In fact, when justice seems to be in short supply, when the world surrounds us, when our faith is tested or when violence threatens, let the everlasting words of the writer of Psalm 94 give you comfort: “The Lord has become my fortress, and my God is the rock where I take refuge” (Ps. 94:22).
God doesn’t often give us the immediate answer to why violence happens, or why catastrophe strikes certain individuals. But even in times of anxiety and loss, your loving, always-present Savior promises to strengthen you through his word. He points you to the heaven he has won for you.
A Lutheran hymn writer by the name of Paul Gerhardt was no stranger to sadness. He was a faithful pastor whose congregation was taken from him. He was a husband who helplessly watched his wife die of illness. He was a father of five children who saw only one of them reach adulthood. And yet, in the midst of that sorrow, Gerhardt wrote these beautiful words that point you to your Savior, your Rock, your Fortress — even in the face of violence…
“These troubles that distress us
Lord, bring them to an end;
With strength and courage bless us,
Your love to us commend,
That we, till death accepting
Your hidden, loving ways,
May then, new life attaining,
Give praise for endless days.”