“the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment”
We’ve been here before. That’s the immediate sense of this line, at least to me. A bit of de je’ vu. Of course, there’s good reason for this sense of having visited this site recently; verse two lists various assembles and councils, then insists that the righteous will having nothing of any of them.
The table is turned in verse five. Now it’s the ungodly who won’t stand in the assembly—in this case, in “the judgment.” There’s a rough kind of rationality in these verses, a justice that begins with a very logical “therefore” and then points specifically at a forum where the righteous will neither walk nor stand nor sit.
Comeuppance, maybe, a sharp sneer, shot full of barely disguised just deserts.
It may seem derisive to try to pull such pettiness out of God’s word, but it seems to me that one of the blessings of the psalms is their simple humanity. These are God’s songs, but they tug at the heartstrings because the human heart is always the source of the music—and, lest we be deceived, the human heart isn’t always pure.
Here’s what seems to be going on. Therefore, given the fact that the unrighteous, the ungodly, are little more than chaff in a prairie wind, the psalmist insists, they will not stand in the judgment. That’s the truth. Because they’ve not been planted by the water’s side, they’ll eventually bend and break. You can count on it because really, there’s nothing there. They will not stand.
To my ears, there’s a little righteous braying here, some “told-you-so” joy, a somewhat unholy laughter, the kind we feel when some hotshot takes a fall.
One of Oklahoma City bombers escaped the death penalty, and when some victims’ families were interviewed after the jury handed down the reprieve, what happened on the screen wasn’t pretty. Quite simply, they wanted the man skinned and dressed out for immediate slaughter. They wanted his hide.
And why not? Many of them have spent years mourning the horrible deaths of their loved ones in a mad terrorist bombing. In too many Oklahoma City homes, ghosts still linger and the pain hasn’t been stanched from wounds too deep for me to imagine. Who wouldn’t want a blood sacrifice?
Is that kind of revenge “right”? Is it “Christian”? Is it “moral”?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I know this—the burning third for vengeance displayed by the families of those who perished in Oklahoma City is sure as anything, altogether human.
And so is the sense of this verse. And so, the psalmist says, the ungodly will not stand. For the writer, I can’t help but think—because I feel it in myself—that that line may have been written with a quill but was prompted by a crooked smile.
It’s not pretty, but it’s who we are. And he’s not wrong--God will judge.
But God alone.