Scripture Focus: Psalm 18.47-49
47 He is the God who avenges me,
who subdues nations under me,
48 who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from a violent man you rescued me.
49 Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name.
Reflection: Victory Over Violence
By John Tillman
Psalm 18 is a victory song in which the weak, helped by God, have defeated the strong.
Violence is a complex topic in scripture, made more complex for those who have experienced it in their lives.
I experienced much small-scale violence growing up, either fighting back against my own bullies or intervening with violence to stop others from being bullied. Fights were common in school and not always immediately stopped. I think the idea was that if a fight had a clear victor, the disagreement would be “settled” and not pop up again. This unofficial policy may have worked occasionally but was certainly dangerous and unwise.
In one memorable fight, I defeated my attacker using techniques learned in the elementary wrestling program. While we both awaited punishment outside the principal’s office, the other boy asked me where I learned “those moves.” He later joined the wrestling team. We never became friends, but we became teammates who practiced and competed together.
Violence is not a solution to disputes or conflicts. It normally escalates rather than de-escalates. It rarely turns combatants into teammates. The violence described in the psalm is not a small-scale schoolyard scuffle. It describes war and death.
Federico Villanueva comments on this victory psalm from the perspective of Filipinos, who have often experienced large-scale violence, including defeat and domination by foreign powers. “It is not easy to identify with the triumphant,” Villanueva says. However, “The vision of one who is powerful but at the same time willing to support the weak touches our hearts like no other.”
As someone who experienced and participated in violence, I’m shocked at the glorification of violent words and actions in our culture and among Christians. Those who would welcome a fight or a war rarely have deep experience with either. Those who threaten or enthusiastically support violence in the name of Jesus or “Christian” politics understand neither Jesus nor politics.
Victory psalms are not intended to glorify violence and war. They glorify the God who saves his people from both. Violence is sometimes thrust upon us in this world. In the next few years, we may all be touched by it. Let not violence deter us from being like Jesus. We must never shirk from standing between the wolf and the sheep, between the strong and the weak.
May God grant us victory over violence and from the temptation to glory in it.
Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. — Matthew 5.6
Read more about Responding to Political Violence
For Christians to fail to condemn, or worse, to directly endorse this type of violence is a great moral and theological failing.
Read more about How Long?
Christ’s rule is not oppressive. Neither should ours be. His burden and yoke are easy and light. So should ours be.