Omit If Desired

February 16, 2011

In church on Sunday, we read Psalm 139 responsively. It was divided into four sections with a chorus sung in between each measure (“Search me, O God, and know my heart. Lead me in ways that endure.”). I was at a microphone at early service because I was leading the music part.

There were four different readers for the spoken parts, with the congregation responding when the words were bold.

Eight year-old Sam led the last section. From my microphone, I could hear his voice “O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me…Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?” Honestly? I cringed a little bit inside because I had a feeling that Sam was going to have a little trouble reconciling those words with all the rest of the stuff I try to teach him at church and about loving enemies. Also I cringed because the rest of the Psalm is so beautiful and those words are so ugly.

At the end of the Psalm, Rev John pointed out the asterisk at the bottom of the page–that came after a bracketed part of the Psalm–the part Sam had read.

*omit if desired

“Omit if desired…” John said. “We have people hurting all over the church and they’re scared to tell anyone about it because we have omitted if desired. Lord, forgive us.”

His point was clear. The Psalmist was human and the Psalmist struggled with things just like the rest of us. One moment life is beautiful and our lips are full of praise and the next moment we’re beating our fists against the wall and cursing the world and its Creator.

Just know that there’s a precedent for that behavior. Scripture is full of men and women who struggled with the same trouble and feelings that we do today. Saints from all ages have had times when they felt hopeless and sad and angry and forgotten and lonely and…

Church (and self): let’s be honest about it and don’t be tempted to “omit if desired.”