In a previous post, Self-Right(eous)ness: A National Dis-ease (Saturday, August 10, 2019), having deemed America’s current political, social, racial turmoil as a condition “infecting all parties and to which all persons are susceptible,” I asked myself, “What is the cure?”
Searching for a response, I turned to the Book of Psalms, the Bible’s songbook (which, for 40+ years, has been an integral part of my daily morning devotions). I especially reflected on the ancient hymns of judgment. There, the psalmist, calling on God to render justice, most often takes the role of a righteous plaintiff bringing a case against a wrongdoing defendant.
Among many, one example:
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.(1)
The psalmist abruptly changes tune, striking a chord of seeming humility:
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.(2)
I say “seeming humility,” for the stress in on the word “if.” Thus, the psalmist, as I interpret the text, infers, “O Lord my God, You know that I have not done any wrong, therefore, vindicate me.”
This is the undertone of much of what I hear these days from every American party, side, or corner. None has done any wrong to anyone else. All have been wronged by everyone else.
So, the psalmist, self-righteously, continues:
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…
judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me.(3)
Notwithstanding this, the Psalms bear other words, that, for me, signal the human fall from the false heights of self-righteousness into the truest depths of humility. This movement, I prescribe as an antidote for the venom that passes as public discourse.
I hear the sound of this truest humility when the psalmist acknowledges that God (and God alone) is righteous:
The heavens declare (God’s) righteousness,
for God is judge.(4)
And God speaks, making clear that no human can stand in the role of judge:
“You thought that I was one just like yourself,
but now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.”(5)
In this awareness, the psalmist, in another place, can sing, truly, plead:
Hear my prayer, O Lord;
give ear to my supplications in Your faithfulness;
answer me in Your righteousness.
Do not enter into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.(6)
Though I would propose the prescription of humility for all, first, I pray to take a (daily!) dose for myself. For I, as anyone, infected by America’s turmoil, am subject to terminate conversations, even relationships, when disagreements arise; to criticize differing opinions and the persons who hold them; and to engage in ad hominem argument with (read: attacks on) those with whom I differ.
So, as the psalmist, I sing, truly, plead:
Hear my prayer, O my God;
in Your faithfulness,
in Your righteousness,
grant unto me the spirit of humility. Amen.
(1) Psalm 7.1-2
(2) Psalm 7.3-5 (my emphases)
(3) Psalm 7.6, 8bc (my emphases)
(4) Psalm 50.6
(5) Psalm 50.21b
(6) Psalm 143.1-2 (my emphases)