Monday, August 18, 2014

Capsizing the Good Ship Lollypop

O Lord my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me,
or like a lion they will tear me apart; they will drag me away, with no one to rescue.
O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands,
if I have repaid my ally with harm or plundered my foe without cause,
then let the enemy pursue and overtake me, trample my life to the ground,
and lay my soul in the dust.

Rise up, O Lord, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment.
Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you, and over it take your seat on high.

The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me.
O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous,
you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God.

God is my shield, who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.
If one does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and strung his bow;
he has prepared his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.

See how they conceive evil, and are pregnant with mischief, and bring forth lies.
They make a pit, digging it out, and fall into the hole that they have made.
Their mischief returns upon their own heads, and on their own heads their violence descends.

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.
Psalm 7

Reflection – It is the Monday Psalter again, and our reading through of the book of psalms has landed us this week on one that again, probably few of us would be inclined to make a core text of our personal spiritual life. ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ or ‘Praise the Lord, all you nations,’ or ‘At night there are tears, but joy comes with dawn’ are more likely to trip off our tongues than ‘Like a lion they tear me apart… See how they conceive evil!’

Be that as it may—and of course with 150 psalms to choose from, of course some of them will be more apropos to us than others—we are to pray this psalm regardless, liturgically on Monday Daytime Prayer, Week One, and so there is something here for us, something we need to know about prayer and God and the spiritual life in this.

I would say that this psalm puts an end to Polyanna Christianity. Polyanna is of course the eponymous heroine of the children’s book who always looked on the bright side of life, no matter what, who steadfastly looked for the good in every situation and the overcame evil situations basically by ignoring them. She was played in the movie by Shirley Temple, and it was all very sugary-sweet, good-ship-lollipop-ish, pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile, power of positive thinking, and so forth.

Well, that’s not Christianity. It may be decent enough psychology, a sensible strategy for getting through difficult situations, may even be in many circumstances the morally good, and hence Christian, thing to do. But it’s not Christian, not in itself, and must not be mistakenly identified with such proper Christian virtues as hope, gratitude, and confident trust in God.

Jesus wasn’t whistling a happy tune in the garden of Gethsemane or the hill of Calvary. God’s great response to the reality of evil and injustice and suffering in the world is not to turn a blind eye to it and think happy thoughts. A blithe assumption that things will work out for the best is not a particularly realistic attitude, and Christianity is nothing if not a deeply realistic religion.

God plunged into the world’s pain and the world’s evil, letting Himself become vulnerable in becoming man, and in his humanity taking the full hit, the full brunt of the world’s evil. Jesus prayed Psalm 7, in other words, and when we pray this psalm we should think of Him, and know that our God knows all about the existence of terrible evil and violence and hatred in this world, that He withstood it, and in this withstanding of it, came the mysterious overcoming of evil by the power of divine love.

Evil is not overcome by Pollyannaish positive thinking. The Good Ship Lollypop has run aground, while the Barque of Peter sails on unimpeded. Evil is overcome by a love that is strong enough to look it in the face, know it for what it is, call it by its right name—sin, hatred, selfishness—and love, love, love not the evil but the evil-doer (which is all of us to some small or great extent) to the end of love and of life. And that is where Psalm 7 takes us, if we pray it in the spirit of Christ and our faith in Him.