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

Psalm 37: Be Wholehearted

Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

November 10, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 37, a song of promise and encouragement to live a good life. Although I don’t usually choose to write a subjective reflection, a life-shaping memory keeps rising up from this psalm today.

I was nineteen years old, kneeling on an antique prie-dieu in front of the Superior General. She was about to rename me “Sister Something” for the rest of my life. You know, something like this picture – except that novice couldn’t sing quite as well as I did! 🙂

We postulants had been able to submit three suggestions, so I was expecting a name in honor of my mother or father, or my own baptismal name. How stunned was I when Mother intoned, “God bless you, Sister Mary Nathaniel”- a name I had heard maybe once in American Lit class! (You remember Hawthorne, right?)


But my shock is not the point of the story. Later, Mother took me aside and told me that she gave me the name because I reminded her of Nathaniel in the Gospel – the guileless one. Being guileless I guess, I told her I didn’t know what “guileless” meant. She said, “It means whole hearted. Be wholehearted, without pretense.”

The LORD watches over the lives of the wholehearted;
their inheritance lasts forever.
By the LORD are your steps made firm,
as the Lord blesses your way.


Psalm 37 gave me the gift of that word, and that memory, again today. I realized that it is still taking me a lifetime to live into Mother’s long-ago challenge. 

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 God will grant you your heart’s requests.


Even though, after Vatican II, I eventually returned to my baptismal name, my heart has remained “Nathaniel”. Like the disciple under the fig tree, I am still trying to weave a true and loving life out of life’s tangled threads – still trying to do so wholeheartedly and without guile.

Gratefully and humbly, I thank God for watching over me. But God is not the only one. Mother Bernard came once more this morning, borne on memory’s beloved wing, to bless me with renewed hope and challenge.

As we pray this psalm today, let us call on the memory of those who have blessed us by their confidence and hope in us. Let us call on the God who watches over our desire to be truly wholehearted disciples.

Poem: Desiderata by Max Ehrmann (1927) – a writing I loved in my youth and have often passed on to those just beginning the glorious journey.

GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the haste, 
and remember what peace there may be in silence. 
As far as possible, without surrender, 
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, 
even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. 
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, 
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. 

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; 
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, 
for the world is full of trickery. 
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; 
many persons strive for high ideals, 
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. 
Neither be cynical about love; 
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, 
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, 
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. 
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. 
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. 

You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; 
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, 
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. 

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive God to be. 
And whatever your labors and aspirations, 
in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. 

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, 
it is still a beautiful world. 
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Music: Tenderhearted – Jeanne Cotter

Psalm 37: Divine Delight

Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Friday, Sept 4, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 37, a psalm which Walter Brueggemann says describes “a world that works!”


Jalopy with headache 🙂

Living in a world that sometimes feels like a crumbling old jalopy, “a world that works” sounds very inviting. So how does the psalmist imagine such a world’s genesis?

Trust in the LORD and do good,
that you may dwell in the land and be fed in security.
Take delight in the LORD,
you will be granted your heart’s requests.


When we hear a consoling verse like this, we might be tempted to picture a magical world where whatever we desire is granted to us – you know, sort of like the genie in the lamp! We’re good people – we deserve that, don’t we???


Rather, what we have been given, undeserved, is the eternal assurance that God is with us, and that as we open ourselves to God’s gracious Presence, our hearts will be transformed.

For ancient Israel, that heart-opening was accomplished by making just choices, remaining faithful in difficulty, and building a community of mutual care.

Turn from evil and do good,
that you may abide forever;
For the LORD loves what is right,
and forsakes not his faithful ones.
Criminals are destroyed 
and the posterity of the wicked is cut off.


So, in the end, it is surely not that our “every wish” is granted. It is, instead, that we become so aligned with God’s hope for all Creation that it becomes our greatest desire and delight. We trust and live within God’s loving and Omnipotent Will for our good.

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


Poetry: Primary Wonder – Denise Levertov
( I am repeating this poem and, oh my, it is so worthy of the repetition!)

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
                                                        And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng's clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

Music: I Delight in You, Lord – David Baroni