Let’s be honest. If some of us were given the role of umpire to the game of life, we’d be calling strikes all the time. And we’d take satisfaction in pointing that big hairy finger and calling, “Yerrrrrrrrrr out!” (Naturally, we’d take less kindly to someone else calling us out. Who do they think they are, anyway?)
The psalmists are no exception. Especially in the context of a lament, these poets frequently call upon God to wreak vengeance upon the wicked.
But to call for God to wipe out the wicked in the middle of a poem of praise and worship? Hmm. Seems a little awkward.
. . .
Having described at length the glory of creation and the Creator, having marveled at the divine providence that sustains all life, the author of Psalm 104 bursts out with words of worship:
May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
he who looks at the earth, and it trembles,
who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
as I rejoice in the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
Praise the Lord. (vss. 31-34, 35b, CEB)
The psalmist doesn’t worship creation. The psalmist worships the glorious Creator to whom the creation points. The earth is nothing, after all, compared to the one who made it; the earth trembles at a mere glance from God. God’s providence is the expression of his joy in what he has created, and the psalmist joins in that joy. Ultimately, though, the poet rejoices in and praises the Lord, not creation itself.
But I’ve left something out. Literally. Just before the psalm ends on that resounding note of blessing and praise, the poet says this: “But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more” (Ps 104:35a).
Yerrrrr out! Like I said, awkward.
. . .
The question here is whether or not we can identify with the psalmist’s awe at the goodness and grandeur of creation, for without that, the curse sounds out of place.
Think of it this way. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, but I’m thinking of putting it on my bucket list. And if I ever get there, I’d like to visit the scenic overlook on the South Rim known as “Ooh Aah Point.” I would gaze in wonder and admiration at the majestic scenery, and say…
Well, you know what I’d say. There’s a reason they call it that.
Now imagine this. As I stand there watching, hundreds of dump trucks back up to the canyon, while scores of planes circle overhead. Some brilliant group of bureaucrats and politicians has decided that the solution to America’s landfill problem is to turn the canyon into an enormous garbage dump. How do you think I’d react? How would you react, if you were watching this happen?
Hey! Get that garbage outta here!
The way the psalmist curses evil is the flip side of the psalmist’s praise for the goodness of creation and its Creator. Sin is the garbage that pollutes what should be a wondrous world. As theologian Cornelius Plantinga once suggested, sin is the vandalism of the way God created things to be. And the greater our awe at creation, the deeper our horror at sin.
Get the wicked outta here! In terms of the justice and holiness of God and the goodness of his creation, it’s the right call.
But only if we ourselves have learned to praise what is praiseworthy.