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
Psalm 139 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
(A psalm by David for the music leader.)
The Lord Is Always Near
139 You have looked deep
3 You notice everything I do
7 Where could I go to escape
9 Suppose I had wings
13 You are the one
15 Nothing about me
17 Your thoughts are far beyond
19 How I wish that you would kill
23 Look deep into my heart, God,
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 what 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.