7 O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughing-stock all day long; everyone mocks me. 8 For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9 If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name’, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
Why is this a favourite passage? Simply because I identify with it so strongly! The English translations tend to minimise the shocking language being used here – I understand that the language is actually that used to describe seduction and rape, a complete overpowering of the person’s own choices. That is certainly how I experienced my own vocation. It becomes a compulsion – a word that must be spoken, that fidgets under the skin until it is released; and then, when it is, the world mocks (and I end up being known as the Vicar who hates Tesco, or – and this is more accurate – the one who is worried about Peak Oil and all that it implies). Which is fair enough, you don’t become a clergyman unless you are prepared to put up with being a figure of ridicule. It just means that passages like this one speak directly to how I experience God and my present condition – and that’s why it’s a favourite passage.
1 Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. 2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.
3 Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. 4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. 5 Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.
Why is this a favourite passage? Although the second half of the psalm might seem to run against it, I see this as one of the most explicit and practical psalms describing what it means to trust in God. The first two clauses emphasise a common Psalmic theme of trusting only in God rather than our own strength (or the strength of a horse, or princes or anything else). This is the practical outworking of idolatry – whenever we put our final trust in something other than God it ends up not just failing but betraying that trust. The next clause is one that challenges me often when we read this psalm in the Daily Office, and it is a more personal attack on idolatry – the idolatry of autonomy (a very common one today). Those who believe in God need to allow him to be God, to actually be in charge of heaven and earth – and therefore believers need to worry less (as Jesus taught).
The Psalm then seems to change gear with its recommendation of having children young, with the very practical consequence of having able bodied men to support you if – as a middle aged man – you end up in an argument ‘at the gate’. I can recognise the practicality of this, but how it links with the foregoing is not yet clear to me.
“God once had Bach and Michelangelo on his side, he had Mozart, and now who does he have? People with ginger whiskers and tinted spectacles who reduce the glories of theology to a kind of ‘sharing’… that’s what religion has become, a feeble and anaemic nonsense.”
I got sent this link by e-mail a couple of weeks ago, but have only now managed to actually listen to it. Good stuff, and certainly something which believers need to ponder.