We blanch at the clarity of suffering.
If we have not experienced direct attack on our lives, our livelihoods, our family, or our faith, the slashing verbal knives of those who lament seem uncivilized, unsafe, and awkward. When we read, we skip over such language, whether our audience be our children, our congregation, or our selves.
Truth be told, the clarity of the besieged is not a perspicuity that works well in all contexts. We understand that reality and human hearts are too complex and nuanced to fit into a good guys/bad guys bifurcation of our race. Wasn’t it a voice as suppressed as Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s that taught us where the line between good and evil lies?: not between peoples or even people but through the heart of every human being.
Yet we must not quiet the voice of the martyrs or the cries of those who find themselves vulnerable to a painful and unjust end. Even if self-interest is the highest motive we can muster, one must remember this: I may one day need these words.
For there is no truth in their mouths; their hearts are destruction; their throats are open graves; they flatter with their tongues. Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of their many transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. (Psalms 5:9–10 NRSV)
The poet has known enough of suffering to place a pungent prayer on the lips of those who have lost all recourse except YHWH himself.
The fifth psalm, as so many of its peers, cries out for ruin to be the fate of those who pound his life into the ground. The pray-er knows them for the duration of his lucid moment to be rebelling against God himself. He knows what ought to, what must, what—please, God, do it!—cannot but fall upon the heads of such assassins, whose fingers are stained with my life’s blood.
At the same time, the faithful lose their limp, their homely frailty, their vulnerable lips so capable of hypocrisy, their hearts so wandering, the seed of evil that germinates in their soul and but for YHWH’s providence and a long accrual of small, righteous decisions should place them quickly on the other side of life. Of this prayer.
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, so that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover them with favor as with a shield. (Psalms 5:11–12 NRSV)
The definition of this fortunate population is the definition of the sufferer himself. Like him, they take refuge in you.
In desperation, they are family. The clarity of the suffering not only profiles with uncommon sharpness the silhouette of one’s enemy. It also labels this one ‘brother’, that one ‘sister’, this child ‘m’ijo’, this aged lady ‘abuelita’.
The psalmist wishes for his kin not only the protection that is obviously needful. He wants more.
He wants laughter. Deep, joyous, exultant, belly-rocking laughter.
In the clarity of unjust affliction, one prays with no footnotes: Make these ones wander alone like living dead. Make these, in safe and tear-stained embrace, laugh until they can hardly remember why.