Burning Like a Fire
May what You have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies; may their children gorge themselves on it, and may there be leftovers for their little ones. – Psalm 17:14
I’ll say this for the Psalms: they’re honest.
Psalm 17 ends by wishing for vengeance, vengeance big enough and painful enough that there’s suffering left over for the enemies’ kids too. Being angry enough to wish suffering on children? It’s not a good look on anyone, least of all the Bible!
But if I’m honest, I can get this angry too. I can get so angry that I waste a whole day arguing with someone in my head. I can get so angry that everything feels like one long parade of offenses against me personally.
So I’m glad that this psalm is written exactly as is. I’m glad because I know that I’m not alone in getting so frightfully angry.
When I’m so angry I feel my heart beating in my skull, I can do what I read in Psalm 17: I can pour my anger out in prayer to God, not trying to seem calm or reasonable, just being honest. And once I have poured out that poison before God, I can leave it behind.
Not all anger is poison. Anger can be holy fuel to right the world’s wrongs. But I can’t fool myself: not all my anger is holy. A lot of my anger is just poison, poison I need some way to leave behind.
If I want to leave my anger behind, God can take it. But only if I offer.
When I’m so angry I feel like a fire about to ignite, may my prayers burn before you alone, that I might be healing balm to the world.
John Edgerton is Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.