Telling it Like it Is

December 2, 2014

Anthony B. Robinson

"Pay back our neighbors seven times over, right where it hurts, for the insults they used on you, Lord." - Psalm 79:12

The 79th Psalm is pretty raw stuff. There's this verse, telling God it's "payback time." There are cries for vengeance and divine wrath.

As Advent begins and our thoughts turn to mangers, Bethlehem, and choirs of angels, this psalm seems, at best, discordant. There's not a thing about it that's pretty or sweet.

Such raw, desperate prayer was prompted by the violation of all that was holy. The Temple had been desecrated and destroyed. The people have been slaughtered. ("They've left your servants' bodies as food for the birds" v. 2). Their enemies gloat.

There's a tendency in the church, perhaps particularly in a season like Advent, to censor out such realities and such raw emotions. Church becomes a place to be polite and on our best behavior or to be only upbeat and happy.

While acting on the feelings expressed by this Psalm can be a mistake, it is also a mistake to censor them from our experience and from our faith. What is holy is violated daily in our world. Children are abused and neglected. Lives are tossed on the scrap heap of unemployment. Once lovely neighborhoods are turned to ugly wastelands. People with power use it to feather their own nest, not to serve the common good.

A faith that does not tell it like it is, that does not reckon with evil, risks becoming sentimental and irrelevant, especially in this present time.

So, while I don't find Psalm 79 to be easy reading or praying, I am grateful for it. I am grateful for a faith that is honest enough to tell it like it is and to submit the truth, along with our feelings of outrage and betrayal, to God.


We confess, Holy One, sometimes we bring you only our noble, cleaned-up selves. We are grateful that what you desire is our real, our uncensored, selves. Grant that our prayers may be honest and our faith real. Amen.

About the Author
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day. Tony is the director of Festival of Preaching NW,which is coming up April 28 - May, 2014 in Seattle.

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