Psalm 37: The Problem of Evil

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

January 29, 2021


from today’s first reading

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 37 which some interpret as a response to the problem of evil. The Hebrew scriptures often express this problem as a question: why do the wicked prosper and the good suffer? 

The valiant one whose steps are guided by the LORD,
who will delight in his way,
May stumble, but he will never fall,
for the LORD holds his hand.

Psalm 37: 23-24

I think many of us see the evil in the world and are saddened, stunned, and confused by it. We share the disillusionment posed in Rabbi Harold Kushner’s classic book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”.

I don’t know about you, but I even have gotten angry with God over the question. When I ministered as hospice chaplain, there were many nights I spent in tearful, protesting astonishment at God’s so-called “Will”.

I have a dear and abundantly faithful friend who swears she will tell God off when she gets to heaven. Ever been like her?😉

Over the years I’ve come to understand that, well actually, we just don’t understand. I have also come to trust that God mysteriously abides with us in our suffering, drawing us ever deeper into that ineffable mystery.

Psalm 37 encourages that trust, and its ensuant behavior, within our own lives:

Trust in the LORD and do good,
    that you may dwell in the land and be fed in security.
Take delight in the LORD,
    and he will grant you your heart’s requests.
Commit to the LORD your way;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will make justice dawn for you like the light;
    bright as the noonday shall be your vindication. 

Psalm 37: 3-6

Psalm 37 acknowledges that, though we trust, our trust is often tested by what we see in the world.

The salvation of the just is from the LORD;
    who is their refuge in time of distress.
And the LORD helps them and delivers them;
    the Lord delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in God.

Psalm 37: 39-40

Perhaps for our prayer today, we would like to test our hearts against this trust, given the circumstances and awarenesses of our own lives. Where is it that we “take refuge” when “bad things happen”?


Poetry: “Talking to Grief” by Denise Levertov

Ah, grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.

I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.

You think I don’t know you’ve been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name,
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider my house your own
and me your person
and yourself
my own dog.

Music: You Want It Darker – by Leonard Cohen who was a Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, depression, sexuality, loss, death and romantic relationships. Many will be familiar with his highly popularized and beautifully haunting song


Cohen invokes in the song what seem to be phrases from the story of the “binding of Isaac” in Genesis 22, when God commanded Abraham to slaughter his beloved son, Isaac. The Hebrew word Hineni, which means “Here I am,” is repeated thrice in the “You Want It Darker” song and in Genesis 22 (vs. 1, 7, 11). …

“Hineni” resonates with obedient readiness. It is what a faithful Jew says to God when summoned and called, even in the face of the “valley of the shadow of death.” But Cohen is not so willing to embrace this word in the face of such deep darkness. Indeed, he “wants out” if thus is how the Dealer deals. He will not simply submit without protest against death, without shouting out from within the dark mystery that enfolds humanity.

Dr. Tom Neal – Academic Dean and Professor of Spiritual Theology, Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans, LA

2 thoughts on “Psalm 37: The Problem of Evil

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