Leave me, all you who practice injustice, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my pleading, the Lord receives my prayer. Psalm 6:8-9 NASB
Receives – Does God really care? Perhaps just asking the question seems monstrously irreverent, but I’m pretty sure that at least a hint of this has crossed your mind once or twice. The world is filled with injustice. Wickedness seems to prevail everywhere we look. A friend wrote to me:
“I have only been made aware of the enormity of the evil and didn’t understand your broken heart until now. It is crushing! God gave man dominion over the earth so do we not have the responsibility to bring the change? I keep hearing God’s in control. Well, is He? Or does He give us the responsibility to fix it? The power that the evil people have is so great and so completely encompassing in the earth that I literally have no ability to effect real change in the earth. So I am left with the reality that you speak of ‘that if God doesn’t show up we are all doomed’. How do we simply go about living ‘good lives’ thinking that is enough? I am left with a haunting, angering and peace-sucking situation. What is the point of being enlightened if there is no ability to effect real change?”
Why doesn’t God show up? If Heschel is right, and we have exiled God from this world, are we left with the consequences of “might makes right”? Is it our fault? As Steve Brown once told me, “I don’t doubt God’s sovereignty, but I do doubt His benevolence.” Most of the time, I think I’m the one who’s at fault. Why? Because I know I’m not a righteous man. Maybe I don’t hear God because I have turned from Him, not because He has turned from me. Maybe I suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune because I am disobedient and I am experiencing the inevitable punishment that comes with my disobedience. Maybe I deserve it.
Or maybe God really doesn’t care. Maybe He’s just too busy with His own plans.
But everything in the Bible says He does. In fact, He cares more than I can possibly imagine. So it must be me, right? I must be the one who isn’t aligned, right? Furthermore, what right do we have to address God in the second person familiar (“You”)? This is not how we would address a king. Maybe we’re just too presumptuous in our approach.
These concerns directed my rabbi to point me to Psalm 6, a psalm of complaint about injustice. It is crucial to note that the psalmist never voices a need for repentance, never suggests that he has sinned, never pleads for forgiveness. Why does this matter? Because we know the psalmist is just like us—imperfect, morally wounded, vacillating, questioning. He’s just as confused, discouraged, despondent, perhaps just as aware of his personal faults. And yet, he writes, “The Lord has heard my pleading, the Lord receives my prayer.” This sequence is important.
the psalmist turns to the LORD, invoking him with a triple invocation of his name, writing “the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping / the LORD has heard my supplication / the LORD will accept my prayer” (Psalm 6:9-10). This is done in confidence that he will be heard. In verse ten, although the nouns remain parallel, “supplication” and “prayer”, the verbs are sequential, “[he] has heard” in the perfect, being complete, and “[he] will accept” in the imperfect, expressing confidence that it will happen.
In Pirke Avot, Rabbi Shimon said: “Be careful in the reciting of the Shema and in prayer. When you pray do not make your prayer a form of routine but a plea for mercy and supplications before God, for it is written, ‘For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.’ Do not be wicked in your own mind.”
Note the last comment, “Do not be wicked in your own mind.” This does not mean, “Don’t be wicked.” It means, “Do not think of yourself as wicked.” Don’t imagine that you are so bad that God will not listen. Don’t tear yourself down in your own thoughts, for if you think of yourself as wicked, you will be tempted to ignore righteousness. You will think God doesn’t want to turn toward you. You will think yourself unworthy of His concern. And you will do wicked things.
The psalmist declares that God accepts his prayer—and he is no more righteous than we are. There is no prerequisite of perfection before prayer. God accepts his prayer—and ours—because . . . (you can finish the thought).
Topical Index: prayer, worthiness, acceptance, wicked, Psalm 6:8-9
Just a note: Look at Ronchetto’s article on this psalm (cited below). You will discover the important fact that even in the Tanakh there are variants and questions about the text. You will also discover that different scholars offer considerably different opinions about meanings and Hebrew constructions. There’s a sense of freedom knowing that it isn’t as rigid as we were taught to believe.
Kyle Ronchetto, “Lamenting a Wasting Disease: A Commentary on Psalm 6,” https://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1026&context=classicsjournal