Help, LORD, because the godly have quite vanished, and faithful folk we can no longer see. Each one tells falsehood even to his neighbour; with flattering lips they speak deceitfully.
Now may the LORD cut off all lips which flatter, and every tongue which speaks with boastful word. Such people say, “We with our tongues will triumph; we own our lips—who then can be our lord?”
“Because the weak have suffered great oppression, and I have heard the needy’s groaning cries, Now I will guard them from those who malign them. To help them,” says the LORD, “I will arise.”
The words proceeding from the LORD are flawless, as pure as silver which by fire is tried, Like silver which, when molten in a furnace, from it emerges sev’n times purified.
O LORD, you will preserve us safe for ever and from this evil age keep us secure; For here the wicked strut about quite freely, and praise is giv’n to all that is impure.
You can hear a congregation sing this to the moving tune Kildonan here.
The psalmist outlines a very negative view of humankind. A view which we might like to say that we don’t recognise… but we do, don’t we? I write this reflection in May, looking back on terrorist attacks on Manchester, living with the reality of armed police on the streets and looking forward to the General Election with a certain amount of trepidation. More personally, I am preparing for imminent exams, waiting to find out what I might do next year, and impatiently counting down the days until an important appointment. Where are you today, as you read this? I have no doubt that hundreds of people worldwide will have been affected by terror and war in the three months that have passed. I wonder how the general election has gone? I can’t help but tremble as I ponder what my exam results, outcomes and plans might be. Where are you today?
The psalmist is undoubtedly in a place that we can relate to; afraid of enemies, tired of war, confused by human division and confronted by the unbelief of others. And yet, he believes that this reality is the one into which God enters. God will rise up because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan. God won’t come to us in times of prosperity and goodness but, instead, in times of poverty and pain. This could be seen as a prefiguring of the reversals which Jesus constantly implies. The poor will become rich, the outcast will be let in, the powerful will be overturned.
And we respond. Are we called to criticise, fear, and loathe the world and what humanity has become? Certainly not. We are called to be part of God’s uprising against poverty, oppression, hate and injustice. We are called to be part of the body of Christ, which brings peace by overturning the tables of this world.
Let’s pray, as the psalmist did,
Help, Creator, for I can’t see your image in the other; I can’t find Jesus in the mess of humanity.
I hear the lies of politicians and preachers alike; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
Forgive me for wishing that you would silence them, the tongues that make great boasts,
Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, Bring about their safety, And include us in your uprising against injustice.
We trust in your promises and have seen your radical love, Teach us how to live your Word in a new generation. Amen
Alex Clare-Young is an Ordinand at Westminster College, Cambridge.