The cure for toxic words – Psalm 64

Today's devotional is penned by Dave Burke


Read Psalm 64

Just over a hundred years ago Rudyard Kipling addressed his most famous poem to his son John:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

You can read the whole thing here - The poem is an expression of a philosophy called stoicism and that first verse is how a stoic should react when being bad-mouthed by others. But when you read it, you think, “Can anybody actually be like this?”

The bible’s heroes certainly weren’t , just look at today’s passage, Psalm 64. David is up against it and he makes no bones about the psychological impact of being under the cosh.

David had a lot of enemies; some of his advisors, many ordinary people in the north of Israel (who thought that Saul’s son should have become king), some of his generals and even his own children. When they were not actually fighting him, they were bad-mouthing him behind his back – that’s what he means by ‘arrows’ (verse 3-4) – spiteful, destructive criticism and inuendo, just like Kipling’s poem.

We thought about the destructive power of words in Psalm 69. But in this Psalm the focus is on God’s response to wicked talk (verses 7-8). He shoots a few arrows of his own. If you have ever been on the receiving end of savage gossip – I certainly have – you need some help. Here it is in this song.

First, God knows and feels with you. Think of all the flak God receives from people who feel aggrieved – he knows what it is like. God empathises with us when others bad-mouth us.

Second, nasty talk usually rebounds on the gossip – he will ‘…turn their own tongues against them’ (verse 8). That person who is keen to tell you what is really going on in someone’s life is likely to tell others what is going on in your life. Not a great friend – give him/her a wide berth.

Third, God is our refuge. There is no greater frustration than knowing someone is talking about you behind your back and being unable to do anything about it. So we hide in God – pour it all out at his feet, bend his ear, and rest in him – just leave it with him!

Stoicism and Christianity first encountered each other in Athens (see Acts 17:18) and the debate lasted for centuries.) as the Christians and the stoics competed for the hearts of Roman citizens. I think that Christianity won because Christian living works better than the competition. Where Kipling and the stoics would say ‘Just put up with gossip, put a brave face on it’ the Bible says, ‘No, kick it upstairs, give it to God, and relax!’

Christians have always had greater resources than anyone else when up against the practical challenges life throws at us, Psalm 64 is just one example.

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