Do not keep silence, O my God; Be not unmoved, lift up Thy rod. For, lo, Thy foes prepare for fighting; They raise their heads, for war uniting. The flames of hatred they are fanning, The downfall of Thy loved ones planning.
They say, “Come let us wipe them out; Let Israel be put to rout. Burn down its towns to ash and ember; Let none that nation’s name remember.” With one accord they are conspiring, The fall of Israel desiring.
Yea, Edom and the Ishmaelites, The Hagarenes and Moabites, All the Philistines and the Tyrians Join Ammon’s tribe and the Assyrians Gebal confers with Agag’s remnants; They all give aid to Lot’s descendants.
Here we are in Psalms, never sure who wrote these 150 poems. This poet assumes God to be silent as humans gather for war, so God is entreated to pick up God’s rod, join the fight and prefer one side to another. War is as active now as it was when this poet picked up pen and papyrus. This is a deeply human poem.
God alone knows why humans endlessly repeat war and ask God to support only one side. No matter what example Jesus gave, or what example wise justice marchers and canny negotiators model for us, groups of us can’t manage to do peace. Groups of us are convinced that annihilation of the Other is what God commands us to do and use God’s name to bless it. War on a smaller scale, groups of us are convinced that God will take sides in one local argument after another, that God will completely silence one group so one group alone may speak.
Frustratingly for many, God doesn’t work that way. Jesus’ parables and friendships make this clear. Called apparently across sides, Apostle Paul annoyingly often found middle ways. There is a needed pendulum though, where people who’ve been silenced need the Other to be silent for a while, so all voices are honoured. Perhaps this is why we humans prepare for war? It’s probably easier to annihilate than to listen hard and work toward a common mind. Whether we choose easy or difficult, let’s just not say it is God’s choice to pick a fight or to take sides. We are intensely human and in the middle of that reality, God gifts us wisdom and grace to listen and work for love, if we ask. It’s a grace God throws around willy-nilly to any side. Alleluia.
God, I’m right. Not them. But it’s not about who is right or wrong is it? It’s about which of us enacts your love. That’s difficult God, because I’m not always sure. They can seem so nice when they’re really preparing for war. Gift us both wisdom, clarity and love beyond imagining. Let us all allow ourselves to work for peace. Amen.
The Rev’d Elizabeth Gray-King, Visual Theologian, North Western Synod Pastor, member St Columba’s URC