Psalm 4 Anger’s a Way

Questions: Why are we distressed? Does God hear us? Can anger ever help? What must we do? Where can we find peace and joy? “Read More” to pursue answers in the Psalms.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Psalms 4:1-8

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me [when I was] in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.

Despite — or perhaps because of — the many familiar verses, this is a hard Psalm to parse. Especially because many of the key words are subtly different in the NIV, so I’m cautious about how rigidly to interpret particular nouns and tenses.

To be sure, it starts off pretty generic by calling out to God, though it is interesting he uses the title ‘righteous God’. But then it appears to go off into the second person:

O ye sons of men, how long [will ye turn] my glory into shame* [how long] will ye love vanity, [and] seek after leasing* Selah.

Is the Psalmist complaining about his own shame, or is this God speaking? At some level, I suppose it could be both: our glory is supposed to belong to God after all, and when man shame us out of their love for vanity they are really shaming Him. Which is good (for us, not them :-), if we can get ourselves into that position of total identification. Which isn’t easy. Then again, maybe God will do that for us:

But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him.

Maybe that’s the point: that God Himself identifies with us, and thus takes our shame upon Himself, and will therefore take our part with our enemies. Which is why our command is:

Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.

Which the NIV renders, I think more accurately, as:

In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Selah
Whether or not anger is the optimal translation, there is a strong sense of violent agitation in the Hebrew, hence the countermanding “be still” — which would hardly be necessary with our modern understanding of “awe.”

This puts me in mind of our earlier discussion of rage. The difference here is that we are presumably angry at our enemies, rather than God. But, that only matters if we accept that God is even greater than those who are against us. If that is true — and we believe it! — then we can process our emotions in that secure context, and move from frenzy to contemplation: seeking to understand our feelings rather than merely react to (or suppress) them.

But wait, there’s more:

Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.

Ouch. Is it just me, or do you also get selfish and self-righteousness when you are angry? The last thing I want to do is offer my own righteousness as a sacrifice on the altar of God’s righteousness — but that’s probably what it would take to shift from faith in my own wrath to trust in God’s justice.

That’s hard. Real hard. I know many angry Christians who literally cannot conceive of truly forgiving their enemies. I suspect that is partly because they don’t realize they are their own worst enemy, but mostly because they have a hard time believing that God is more good than their enemies are evil:

[There be] many that say, Who will shew us [any] good* LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time [that] their corn and their wine increased.

Conversely, I have also seen this type of increase to be true. I had dinner last Friday with a couple where the wife was recovering from a pretty severe cancer. Though the pain and suffering had been (and often still was) intense, they were filled with “gladness” about everything God had done. Not just the healing (with every prospect for full recovery), or even the extraordinary way their church had rallied around to support them. Rather, their deepest delight was the way God had used this illness to reveal Himself to them, and transform their character by His manifest work in their lives. In fact, their primary prayer was not for a quick end to suffering, but rather that God would complete the good (though painful) work He had started!

I am sure they would echo the Psalmist in saying:

I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.

May we have the faith to do the same!


God, you know the fretful, agitated way I often respond when I feel shamed or lied to. I thank you for the gift of anger to help me recognize when my boundaries are being trampled, even if I get too many false positives. Yet Lord, I know that anger is supposed to lead me to seek You and Your justice, rather than focus inward on myself or outward on my enemies. I know that peace and gladness only come when I focus upwards on You, and Your goodness towards me. Grant me the grace to sacrifice my self-righteousness to you, that I may rest securely in the peace only you can bring. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is a tribute to the U.S. navy, as well as an affirmation of the valid role of anger.