Resentment and Rejoicing in the Psalms

Resentment and Rejoicing in the Psalms October 27, 2021

Photo by Scott Greer,

Many, even most, of the Psalms bring the reader to a moment when the energy, emotion, and perspective shifts. Shuv is the Hebrew root. Metanoia in the ancient Greek translation. The moment of a turning.  Psalm 64 performs this conversion moment abruptly, like those lawn mowers that advertise a low turning radius. In this case, we were driving toward resentment, then suddenly we’re rejoicing. How did that happen?

When Life Merits Resentment

Resentment is my word, not the Psalmist’s. But it seems to fit. “Hear my voice, O God, when I complain; protect my life from fear of the enemy.” “They sharpen their tongues like a sword.” “They shoot without warning and are not afraid.” “They say,  ‘Who will see us? Who will find out our crimes?’” 

Resentment is a word with almost entirely unvirtuous connotations, but I’m not sure it deserves them. There are some things that merit our resentment. The Psalmist resents the ability of the wicked to hide their crimes indefinitely. He resents the way people turn words into weapons to harm the vulnerable. He resents their fearless confidence. They know exactly what they can get away with, and they seem to take joy in pressing their twisted plots as far as they can. (Did I mention my nightstand reading about sociopaths?)

This crescendo of resentment in Psalm 64 seems right and appropriate to me. There are dangerous and powerful people nearby who live as though there is no goodness higher than their plots. No love deeper than their own for themselves. No justice that transcends their manipulative power. The Psalmist resents that. And so do I. 

Almost Missing the Turn

But then comes the turn at the end of the pass through the lawn: “The righteous will rejoice.”

I found myself sucked in by verses 1-6, even while writing just now, so that verses 7- 10 came as a shock. I don’t feel joy at all—I’m still charged with resentment. I’m not sure my mower made the turn. Kathleen and Rick next door may have some words for me. 

The risk and temptation of despising the tenacity of injustice is that I will wind up agreeing with those I resent. I will agree, I mean, that they are actually getting away with it. My obsession implies my unbelief. It suggests that there is no God of this world, no eschatological hope. Wickedness wins, the clever manipulators will be left unseen and unjudged forever. 

And so just before he falls into this trap, the Psalmist leaps upward toward trust. “The human mind and heart are a mystery; but God will loose an arrow at them, and suddenly they will be wounded.” “The righteous will put their trust in him.”

The Rejoicing beyond Resentment

Even the verb tenses change. We hear what the wicked now do, and then we hear how the God of limitless justice—the God with a quiver full of arrows—will respond. 

God will expose all that is hidden. Everyone will see, and they will stand in awe. Not of what we now stand in awe of —the ability to manipulate, for instance. Sin, at the eschaton, will be thoroughly boring. When the heavens and earth open for the unveiling of their Creator, it’s the goodness and truth of God that will leave us standing with our mouths wide open. 

And, well, look at that. I’ve forgotten all about my list of resentments, at least for a brief eschatological moment. I’ve had a foretaste of the future tense that transcends all verbs. I’m experiencing what verse 10 calls “glory.” And that’s cause for rejoicing. I can turn on a dime from my resentment and find myself rejoicing even now, while the wicked still hide there in the unmown grass. 

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