A funny thing happened to me on the way to waking up today. Imagine my surprise when the first reading of the morning (in the Revised Common Lectionary) was from Psalm 37:
Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. (vv. 1-4)
It nearly goes without saying that the sweeping, ill-planned, and draconian order about refugees, to use the psalmist’s words, constitutes a wrong. (I’d like to save the word evil for more egregious acts—e.g., people getting murdered by governments). But even many conservatives are calling Trump’s move “wrong.” I agree with Brenden O’Neill at the libertarian rag spiked,
It is the lowest form of gesture politics: the swipe of a pen intended to demonstrate all-American strength, yet really signaling a stunning disregard for the American spirit of liberty and tradition of providing a home for the repressed of the globe.
Christians have deeper reasons than “the American spirit of liberty” to be dismayed by the executive order, of course, but the psalm got me thinking about not merely the wrong but how we might respond. I was especially startled by the admonition to “Trust in the Lord and do good.” It reminded me of a very simple truth: that the powerful who do wrong cannot stop the church from doing good. In this case, there is nothing the current administration can do to prevent the church from continuing to minister to refugees.
To be sure, it will be harder to do so—much harder. It will require more sacrifice on our part. For the time being, we cannot count on the government to bring refugees to our doorstep, so it appears more of us are going to have to travel to the refugees overseas, wherever they might be huddled. Nor can we look to the government to subsidize our efforts. That means we’re going to have to give up the new electronic gadget or the home remodel or whatever to deepen our support of the efforts of World Relief, Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision, and others overseas.
For many of us, the door to ministry toward refugees has been slammed shut. But other doors remain wide open, and they look out on people desperate for our service and evangelistic ministrations: refugee families in the apartment complex down the street; pregnant women with few resources; the illiterate in our inner cities and in small towns; the drug-addicted; the sexually confused; the abused; prisoners—need I say more? Nothing the government can do can stop us from helping someone, somewhere, somehow in the name of Christ. The psalmist’s admonition to do good is not some romantic idealistic wish but hardheaded realism.
In another verse, the psalmist adds:
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity. (vv. 8-11)
The psalmist, King David, knows something about the ins and outs, and ups and downs, of government. He knows that the people of God will find themselves in situations over which they have little power. He also knows the temptation to respond to evil merely with anger and wrath. There is a season for appropriate anger, but anger has a way of soiling the soul very quickly (this is perhaps why Paul says it should be cut short within a day—Eph. 4:26). We comfort ourselves by insisting our anger is righteous, but I have to admit that the longer I harbor it, that little bit of righteousness in my anger becomes increasingly tainted with a great deal of self-righteousness. This can lead to nothing good.