“Many are the woes of the wicked. . .”
Maybe so. Maybe not.
Proportionally, in this world do the wicked suffer more or than the righteous? I’m not sure. Some forms of suffering the righteous undergo, in fact, aren’t even background music in the lives of really bad people.
But that’s a topic for another time. Give me a minute or so to brag about my granddaughter.
When, years ago, my son and his long-time girlfriend came to a relatively congenial parting of the ways, it was tough on him. My guess is that it was tough on her, too, but I know it was tough on my granddaughter, who’d come to nearly worship the ground her uncle’s girlfriend walked upon.
How does one explain a break-up to a four-year-old? Her father told her what she had to understand was that people changed. That seemed to help.
The next day, at day-care, she ambled up to her teacher with the news that her uncle wasn’t going with his girlfriend anymore.
“Oh, really,” the teacher said.
“Well, you know,” Jocelyn said, deadly serious, “people change.”
Her teacher told Jocey’s mom that she had all she could do not to laugh.
I don’t know that Jocelyn told her teacher a truth she’d totally digested, or if her mind was acting like a tape recorder; but if she understood her father’s explanation, then I’m pleased because at four years old she’s arrived at the level of wisdom that some (many?) don’t achieve until much later, if at all.
We’re talking about wisdom here, I suppose, and today’s passage brings to mind the word wisdom because I’m not so sure as David is that he’s exactly right all the time about the claim he so brashly offers us. In my world, the wicked aren’t always woeful; sometimes, like it or not, they prosper.
We don’t have to look all that far to find an entirely contradictory appraisal right here in the Psalms—in 73, famously, the plight of the wicked looks a great deal different: “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.” No woes there, no not one.
The Bible, it seems, is probably a whole less squeamish about contradiction than its readers are. What seems true in one verse seems a whole lot less so just down the block. How do we make sense of such things?
Eugene Peterson, in his “Introduction to the Wisdom Books” in The Message, claims that “the Psalms are indiscriminate in their subject matter—complaint and thanks, doubt and anger, outcries of pain and outbursts of joy, quiet reflection and boisterous worship.” It’s all here in this book. “If it’s human,” he says, “it qualifies.”
The richness of this immodest claim is not that it is forever true. The essential joy of what David claims about the woes of the wicked is the rich human happiness he feels in forgiveness. About the specifics, maybe he’s not to be trusted; after all, he sings a different song later in another concert.
But about the big picture, he’s on the money—and the big picture in Psalm 32 is the triumph of forgiveness. About that, there’s very good reason to brag.