In this paraphrase the claim is made that worldly people trim gods to their own shape and size. But is imagining a god in one’s own image more universal than that? For instance, does an over-emphasis on God as love betray an anxiety about our not wanting to be judged? This over-emphasis is not surprising, given some of our experiences of being on the receiving end of people’s judgement and anger. However, God is believed to judge differently: his righteousness is tempered by mercy, and his holiness is tempered by grace. Would we really prefer a God who never judges; or, when we or others are treated unjustly, do we want the help of God who judges justly and mercifully?
In the original version of the Psalm an appeal is made three times: ‘Trust in the Lord!’ And three times the reason given for doing so is that God is our ‘help and shield’. The Psalmist’s reason for this repeated emphasis is to draw a sharp contrast. Idols are inert; God is active. Idols are of no help at all; whereas God helps, shields, and blesses those who trust him.
The Psalmist makes a second claim: we become like our objects of worship. Idols made of silver and gold have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see; ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell; hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk. In a similar way, the worshippers of idols become silent, unseeing, deaf, desensitised, unfeeling, and unmoved. In our time, does over-exposure to reports of exploitation and crisis make us desensitised, unfeeling, and unmoved? By contrast, if the Lord God is our object of worship, God’s active help can move us. Unlike idolization that deadens and demotivates, God’s activity is discerned in those he enlivens and motivates. Today, let God’s active help and transcendent Life set your spirit in motion in praise and service.
Reports of bad news weigh me down. I feel like curling up in a protective ball. Nothing I can do will change anything. But wait: What are you trying to say? You are my help and shield!
I begin to uncurl and look around. Perhaps, with your help and protection, I can do something. By trusting in your constant faithfulness revealed in Jesus Christ, the impossible becomes possible. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Julian Templeton, Minister, St John’s URC New Barnet