I recently watched the History Channel’s Hatfields and McCoys show, starring Kevin Costner. It was a three-part series about the feuding family who quickly became a household name for familial rivalry and violence. The show depicts the decade long war as the result of the two fathers from each family, dating back to sometime before or during the civil war. It also showed the role that Christian faith played in the life and actions of Randall McCoy. He attended church, frequently quoted Scripture, and interpreted events and meted out his version of justice with righteous indignation. After much fighting and killing of members of both families, the Hatfields surrounded the McCoy’s cabin to capture Randall. The plan fell apart when Randall escaped, resulting in the Hatfield’s torching of the house with Mrs. McCoy and her children inside. In what is for sure the most grueling scene of the show, a daughter and a son are shot and killed while exiting the burning house. Mrs. McCoy is beaten with a rifle. Randall McCoy returned to the cabin to learn of the death and destruction. He looks to the sky and asks how a just God would allow this to happen. From then on, his anger and raw bitterness at the absence of God that day drives his steps down a road strewn with the casualties of the myth of redemptive violence.
Was God really absent that day? Was God not answering Randall’s prayers any longer? Or, did God favor the enemy—the Hatfield family in this situation? What led Randall McCoy to think God was on his side and would deliver justice to his enemies? Some of these are questions that must have run through McCoy’s mind then. They are also questions we ask when our enemies get the best of us. God seems to be against us in these times; favoring our enemies over us.
As we read Psalm 138 this Sunday, many people in our congregations will be asking questions similar to Randall McCoy. Many will already think they have the answer, believing there is just no way God has come through for them. Others will perceive that God has been on their side all along, smiting their enemies and orchestrating their victory. How are we to interpret God’s place when it comes to our enemies? How do we respond when our enemies are pursuing us; seeking our downfall and ruin? Is it even possible to connect with God? The psalmist provides some answers here, ones that provide an introduction to the other texts for this week:
- Give your enemies to God. (trusting God as the only Judge) (v.v.3,7-8)
- Give your self a pride check. (v.6—humble vs. haughty; maybe I am the bitter enemy?)
- Give your thanks to God. (v.v.1-5)
The dangerous aspect of handling our enemies, however, is in doing all three of these, just like Randall McCoy. Or, doing them just like the people of the Civil War North, South, or in modern-day religious wars and strife. Perhaps #2 should take the longest amount of our work and time.