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Friday, June 3, 2022

Fret Not

 Fretting freely

“Fret not yourself because of evildoers” (Psalm 37:1, ESV).

This verse really bothered me the first time I read it. I knew I wasn’t supposed to worry about what to wear or eat or drink. Jesus cares enough about us to provide for our daily needs (Matthew 6:19-34). But weren’t evildoers the one thing I should fret about?

Shouldn’t I be filled with righteous anger when evildoers are doing their evil and getting away with it? Isn’t fretting the first, necessary step on the road to doing something about the evil all around me? Don’t I need to become upset about it before I’ll act? I saw fretting as sort of the opposite of contentment. Was this verse really saying that I should be content or passive when evildoers are flourishing?

Obviously, I didn’t understand what the psalmist meant.

Anger or anxiety?

Maybe my excuse for fretting because of evildoers was just a cover for an attitude that was clearly wrong. How often is my fretting truly righteous anger? Isn’t it more likely to be unrighteous anxiety or open hatred?

When my empty house was on the market several years ago, copper theft was on the rise in my town. A small part of my fretting was the indignation that drug addicts were stripping homes of their wiring, causing major headaches for the homeowners, in order to make enough money to buy their next fix.

But the biggest part of my fretting was for myself. What if those evildoers attacked my house next? Would my insurance company cover the damage? How much would the deductible cut into my badly-needed profit? Could I show the house without electricity, or would I have to take it off the market until the repairs were done?

Maybe this is the kind of fretting the psalmist is warning me about. I was fretting because of evildoers in the positive sense of righteous anger, but I was also (even more so) demonstrating my lack of trust in the God who promises to be with me through the most difficult times. And I wasn’t really angry at the crime, I was angry with the criminals. Instead of praying for their deliverance from the drugs that enslaved them, I was simply hating them.

Fretting and envying

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place when I learned about the use of parallelism in Hebrew poetry. After expressing an idea, the poet would follow it with a similar, or parallel, thought. The second half of the verse says, “Be not envious of wrongdoers!” The writer was limiting his meaning of fretting to the negative sense of useless worry, as a parallel to the negative idea of envying wrongdoers.

When I think about the idea of parallelism, I also realize that there’s a connection between fretting and envying. My fretting was actually leading to a sort of envy for the copper thieves. I was trying to make an honest dollar off of something I’d invested in and taken care of for years. Those evildoers might attempt to use a shortcut and make a fast buck off of my hard work.

I was in a bad place, physically and emotionally, during that time. Hard work was hard. I was longing for an easier way. There was a bit of a glimmer of jealousy in my heart for those who could make a quick and easy profit, even if they used illegal means. They must have been getting away with it, or it wouldn’t have been such a problem in my town.

No passivity

If I read the rest of the Bible, I know that God doesn’t want or expect us to be passive about evildoing. He urges us to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). No passivity there. Instead, an active goodness that intentionally engages with evildoers in spiritual warfare, with the goal of winning. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 12:20). Jesus was the best model of this lifestyle.

He demonstrated a higher, more effective, more perfect way: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). He loved His enemies enough to die for us so that we could be set free. He chose one of His greatest enemies, Saul of Tarsus (later called Paul), to take His message to much of the ancient world and to write a large part of the New Testament. Love is active, not passive.


I also need to remember that God’s justice is being done even when I don’t see it. Evildoers suffer from the evil that they do. Drug and alcohol abuse and sexual sin take their toll on people’s minds and bodies and emotions. Those who are selfish and unjust aren’t likely to have deep, meaningful, caring relationships with others. Many evildoers end up in poverty or in prison.

When I fret because of evildoers, I’m telling God that I don’t believe that He is who He says He is. I’m allowing my own anxiety to overwhelm my trust in Him, rather than recognizing that He’s acting in the name of justice even now.

If He doesn’t stop the evildoing as quickly as I think He should, He has His good and perfect reasons. I can recognize some of them, such as His intense love, which allows us the freedom to choose even when it causes harm. And I know that He loves those evildoers so much that He gives them time to come to Him instead of wiping them off the face of the earth the first time they hurt someone. But He probably has a whole lot more reasons that I don’t know about and that I’m not capable of understanding just yet.

I need to take to heart this admonition not to fret because of evildoers. But abandoning my fretting doesn’t give me permission to be content with or passive about the suffering in this world. Instead, it’s the only way I can experience the freedom and peace and joy that come from loving my enemies and trusting that God knows what He’s doing.



**Note: When I originally published this article, I used the KJV translation of Psalm 37:1 for two reasons. One, it was the version I was reading when I came across this verse for the first time, when it made the deepest impression on me. Two, I wanted to use the word “evildoers” in the following paragraphs. I checked out a couple of other versions, but they didn’t seem to fit as well.

Soon after I posted it, my pastor quoted this verse in his sermon, reading from the ESV. That translation still uses the word “evildoers,” but the language is more modern. I decided to edit my article, changing the version and a few of my comments, to make it more readable.