Sermons

Summary: Crisis and Choice, Pt. 8

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THE LAST LAUGH (PSALMS 52)

On the cover of the May 21, 2001, Newsweek magazine was the full-size head of a man, except that the face of the man is indistinct because the print is in the form of a red X-ray film or an undeveloped photograph. The word E V I L in bold covers his nose and mouth, but not the sharp, hollow, piercing eyes that seem to stare right at readers of the magazine. Underneath the word E V I L is this question: “What makes people go wrong?”

When I saw the cover for the first time, I remarked, “What a choice for a model!” Little did I know, turning to page 3 I discovered that the cover was not a model, but a hated, vilified and controversial murderer. At the bottom of the page was an explanation of the cover design:

COVER: Photograph of Timothy McVeigh by Gamma. Colorization by Steve Walkowiak for NEWSWEEK.

Tim McVeigh, you may recall, single-handedly blew up the Oklahoma City federal building to vent his anger at the government, killing 168 innocent victims, including 19 children. The Newsweek edition was published in conjunction with McVeigh’s original execution date, May 16. McVeigh’s execution by lethal injection was carried out a month later, June 11, after his lawyers had failed to delay the execution a second time.

Psalm 52 is an agonizing poem and prayer from a man who felt responsible for the evil that was thrust upon others, causing their death (1 Sam 22:22). David visited kind priest Ahimelech, who sheltered, fed and, unwittingly, armed him when he fled from King Saul (1 Sam 21:7-9). Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s head shepherd, reported to Saul that the priest was harboring David, Saul’s sworn enemy. Saul then ordered Doeg to execute the priest, his family and other known priests in the town of Nob. Altogether eighty-five priests were killed. Only Ahimelech’ son, Abiathar, escaped. If that wasn’t enough, Doeg also killed the men and women of the town, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep. (1 Sam 22:18-22)

With the knowledge of what Doeg the Edomite, a descendant of Esau, had done, David penned this intense, wrenching and probing psalm. This is the only psalm that covers the massacre at Nob and only five of 150 psalms that begin with the agonizing “Why?” question (Ps 2:1, 10:1, 22:1, 52:1, 74:1).

What bothered David was not only the act of evil, but the arrogance of evil - the boldness, the heartlessness and the shamelessness of evil to boast, to argue and to champion its merits, which include causing trouble, creating havoc and challenging righteousness.

Why are people attracted to evil? What moral responsibility do we have to evil’s challenges? Will good or evil triumph eventually? How does evil work on people and cling to them?

Evil is a Choice

52:1 For the director of music. A maskil of David. When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him: “David has gone to the house of Ahimelech.” Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man? Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God? 2 Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit. 3 You love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth. Selah 4 You love every harmful word, O you deceitful tongue! (Ps 52:1-4)

One of the most captivating stories of good vs. evil is Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low.” A wealthy, ambitious and ruthless shoe executive who built his residence on top of a hill received news that his son had been kidnapped, except that his chauffeur’s son was the one wrongly kidnapped. Gondo, who had planned to use his funds for a hostile takeover, did not want to pay the ransom that would have bankrupted him, but relented for moral reasons after a titanic emotional battle.

After a lengthy and clever investigation the police tracked down the mastermind who had also killed off his partners. The kidnapper turned out to be a young man who had lived down the lowly, filthy and destitute hills, but had a promising future after completing his residency at the hospital.

The jailed kidnapper requested for Gondo and mocked the executive who bothered to appear: “Are you glad because I’m going to die?” Gondo replied, “Why should you and I hate each other?” The young man then gave a chilling, eerie but provoking reply: “I don’t know. I’m not interested in self-analysis. I do know my room was so cold in winter and so hot in summer, I couldn’t sleep. Your house looked like heaven, high up there. That’s how I began to hate you. That gave me a purpose in life. It’s interesting to make fortunate men unfortunate.”

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