In Psalm 79 and 109 we see the psalmist crying out in anger against adversaries. Parts of each of these psalms sound pretty harsh. But they do address an important part of life: the reality of adversaries. We all have adversaries of some sort at points in our lives. The book of Psalms, wonderful for so many reasons, gives us guidance on how our hearts should move towards God and others when we are angry because of difficult people and difficult situations in life.
Responding to adversaries in difficulty
Adversaries come in many shapes and sizes. We can consider people bringing difficulties into life as “adversaries.” Maybe, like the psalmists, your adversaries are people scheming about how to kill you. More likely, they are people plotting your downfall at work, a family member who always manages to create chaos whenever they show up, a class bully, or a medical provider who doesn’t take you seriously. The list of possible adversaries is nearly endless. They all share in common the ability to elicit anger as they bring difficulties into life.
There are many ways we can respond to difficult people and difficult situations in life. Here are four ways we can respond to adversaries and the anger they inspire in life: (1) dreaming, (2) scheming, (3) bearing, and (4) moving.
By dreaming I mean the sort of wishful hoping for the downfall of your adversary. Maybe you silently wish your coworker would get fired; or that your obnoxious neighbor will get caught violating the city rules and be forced to change their ways. Whatever it be, dreaming involves a sort of curse: “I hope you choke.”
If dreaming is wishing for the downfall of your adversary, scheming takes it one step further. Here you are actively planning how to bring about the shame and/or downfall of those who have hurt you.
Scheming may take the form of passing around juicy stories—whether true or false—with the aim of exposing your adversary to ridicule. Or, in a more extreme form, scheming can involve creating traps that directly threaten the life and well-being of an adversary: political, financial, relational.
Scheming can feel good because it is taking initiative and using our power to fix the situation.
Often, the adversaries of our lives will pass by, if we are content to wait for a time. And if you are prone towards stubbornness, waiting emerges as an obvious approach to conflict. Bearing allows you to deal with your adversaries by not dealing with them. You may bear with your adversaries and the anger and frustration they bring into life because you are strong and can take it; you may bear with them because you feel like you deserve the difficulties they bring into your life. Whatever the reason, bearing concludes that it is better to put up with injustice than to try to do anything about it.
Another possible response to adversaries is to move. That is, moving towards God. Moving involves turning toward God in prayer about our adversaries, driven by the anger and frustration they cause within us. This is, I submit, the basic posture which Psalm 79 and 109 recommend in dealing with adversaries. Moving toward God in prayer while angry is an exercise in expressing ourselves towards God rather than towards our neighbor.
Responding by moving toward God in prayer differs in a couple key ways from the other responses above. It acknowledges that God is ultimately in charge of justice, it acknowledges that my resources for dealing with difficulties and difficult people are very limited, and it also acknowledges that anger is not a wrong part of how we function. Anger should drive us toward God, who is big enough to hear our anger, strong enough to bear it, and wise enough to patiently redirect our anger where it should be, rather than leave it in the misplaced directions we so often vent our anger in.
Life is full of adversaries. Most are small and passing; some are big and lasting. People and situations in life lead us again and again into anger by bringing difficulties and frustrations into life. The question is not, “Will you get angry?” but rather, “How will your anger play out?”
As adversity moves into your life, where does anger lead you? If it does not lead you to God in prayer, than your anger will certainly emerge as a force of destruction to you and to others. The Psalms guide us not only in how to praise God, but in how to respond in our anger towards adversaries in our lives: by moving towards God in prayer.