bible blog 1435

The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass, while the headlines are chosen to remind me of the world in which I blog.

THE GENTLE REVOLUTIONARIES OF HONG KONG 

protesters shelter police from rain

protesters shelter police from rain

Psalm 139 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

(A psalm by David for the music leader.)

The Lord Is Always Near

139 You have looked deep
into my heart, Lord,
    and you know all about me.
You know when I am resting
    or when I am working,
    and from heaven
    you discover my thoughts.

You notice everything I do
    and everywhere I go.
Before I even speak a word,
    you know what I will say,
and with your powerful arm
    you protect me
    from every side.
I can’t understand all of this!
    Such wonderful knowledge
    is far above me.

Where could I go to escape
    from your Spirit
    or from your sight?
If I were to climb up
to the highest heavens,
    you would be there.
If I were to dig down
to the world of the dead
    you would also be there.

Suppose I had wings
like the dawning day
    and flew across the ocean.
10 Even then your powerful arm
    would guide and protect me.
11 Or suppose I said, “I’ll hide
in the dark
    until night comes
    to cover me over.”
12 But you see in the dark
    because daylight and dark
    are all the same to you.

13 You are the one
who put me together
    inside my mother’s body,
14 and I praise you
    because of
the wonderful way
    you created me.
Everything you do is marvelous!
    Of this I have no doubt.

15 Nothing about me
    is hidden from you!
I was secretly woven together
    deep in the earth below,
16 but with your own eyes
    you saw
    my body being formed.
Even before I was born,
you had written in your book
    everything I would do.

17 Your thoughts are far beyond
    my understanding,
    much more than I
    could ever imagine.
18 I try to count your thoughts,
    but they outnumber the grains
    of sand on the beach.
And when I awake,
    I will find you nearby.

19 How I wish that you would kill
    all cruel and heartless people
    and protect me from them!
20 They are always rebelling
    and speaking evil of you.[a]
21 You know I hate anyone
who hates you, Lord,
    and refuses to obey.
22 They are my enemies too,
    and I truly hate them.

23 Look deep into my heart, God,
    and find out everything
    I am thinking.
24 Don’t let me follow evil ways,
    but lead me in the way
    that time has proven true.

wings

wings like the dawning day…

The lectionary for mass selects the verses it wants but I’ve printed the whole Psalm. It is a beautiful expression of trust in a God who is beyond understanding. People of faith invent their God, using the tradition they’ve inherited but adding to it out of their own experience. This writer continually recognises that any true language about “God” has to point beyond itself, because human words and thoughts are inadequate for expressing an encounter with a presence that is not human. The “God” who can be spoken of is not God. The “God” of the Bible is not God. These words are not descriptions or definitions of God; they represent human experiences which cannot be fully represented without pointing to a realm beyond words. A presence which is effective in the heavens above and in the world of the dead beneath, is not something to be detected by any human science, but many people will recognise the human experience which justifies this leap of imagination.

The link between my human self and an eternal goodness beyond all worlds is enhanced by the psalmist’s words, although it can never be proved nor turned into a moral or political programme. I hope that I can be a channel for such goodness to influence morality and politics, but its special value is that it not just another moral judgement or political conviction. The rule of God, as expressed by Jesus, invites allegiance but cannot be imposed by moral force ( as by Pharisees) or political force (as by Jihadists) .

That’s the mistake the Psalmist himself makes when he prays that God will kill those who hate HIm. In these words he degrades his God into another force in the world, even if it’s a superhuman force. God is not the police nor is he superman. He/ she is the One who cannot be manipulated for any human purpose now matter how good it seems to its adherents, not even if it seems to uphold the honour of God. It’s not a negligible mistake. Once we allow God to become another power in the world, he/she becomes another weapon we can use against the enemy. “God” is on our side. “God” has ordered us to fight a holy war. “God” has commanded us to cut off the heads of unbelievers.”God” has instructed us to kill doctors who carry out abortions.

We may believe like Moses, that God wants to liberate our people from slavery; we may think that this cannot be accomplished without force, but we are not thereby justified in atrributing our violence to God. We may even be convinced, like Moses’ people, that God has brought his own punishment on our foes; we may even kill them, but we must never kill in God’s name.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, thinking of plans to kill Hitler, says that we must not try to make such a killing into a Christian action ordered by God, but we should do old man praywhat we think to be right, trusting in God’s forgiveness. He teaches that our faith in God cannot be part of our equipment for worldly tasks (Jesus makes me a successful businessman) but is a “secret discipline” directed towards the Father-who-sees-in-secret, the holy one from whose presence we cannot escape.

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