When you read the psalms, there are so many references to being attacked and enemies devising plots, you can begin to think the writers suffered from paranoia. To clarify, if you think you are being attacked and really are, you are not paranoid. But if you imagine enemies everywhere that are non-existent, chances are you are paranoid.
For example, David, who is credited with writing the Psalms, had good reason to be paranoid. He had been hunted down by King Saul for years, forcing him to hide in caves and to suspect the people around him when in the king’s court.
But the vast majority of people nowadays have no reason to be paranoid. We are not famous enough or wealthy enough to merit this much attention by others. Most people have much more important things to spend their time and attention on than us. I know that’s the case for me.
Still paranoia and conspiracy theories abound in our world. Some may have a basis in reality; most do not.
The writer of Psalm 140 is one such writer who appears to suffer from paranoia, seeing plots all around him. He begins with a plea to God to deliver him from evil and violent men, “who plan evil things in their heart, and stir up wars continually.” (2) Their lips are full of lies. “They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the poison of vipers.” (3)
In verse 4 he again asks God for help from wicked, evil men, “who have planned to trip up my feet. Arrogant men have hidden a trap for me, and with cords they have spread a net, by the wayside they have set snares for me.” (4b-5) He asks God to mete out justice by requiting them in kind for their misdeeds. “Let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them! Let burning coals fall upon them! Let them be cast into pits, no more to rise! Let not the slanderer be established in the land; let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!” (9b-11)
He ends with words of confident trust that God will bring about justice. “I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the afflicted, and executes justice for the needy. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence.” (12-13)
We don’t know the cause of the writer’s complaint. Perhaps they are real; perhaps they are the creation of a paranoid mind. But whatever the truth, the writer trusts that God will bring about true justice. That is a good place to be! Trusting in God.
More often than not, the evil we fear is of our own making and thus needs to be dismissed from our hearts with strong words. We need to chase out our fears of evil with the strong words of the psalmist.
If I let myself, I can see threats and enemies lurking all about me, real and imagined. I can let worry take hold of my mind like evil setting out to destroy all I love. When that happens, I need to be strong and forcefully push them from my mind, putting my trust in my God. It is my own words, formed into worry and faceless anxiety, that I need to fear, no conspiracy by others. As stated at other times, I can be my own worst enemy.
When worry hits, I need to say like the psalmist, “Let them be cast into the pits, no more to rise!” Let my worries and unwarranted fears be cast out of my mind and into the pit where they will never see the light of day!
Perhaps the writer of this psalm had good reason to fear all that was going on around him. But for us today, fear is the greater enemy, shapeless, unidentifiable fear of what could go wrong. This psalm remains relevant today when the greatest enemy lies within, depriving us of the joy God is waiting to provide.
What has been your experience with excessive worry and seeing evil all around? Have you let it rob you of joy?