Thought for the Month October 2023

Vote for Donald or sing the song of Malakai?

Psalms, my favourite book of the Bible, is full of poetry, imagery and metaphor; it is also rooted in the world as it was three thousand years ago. Not an easy read then – no wonder that you have to do a running internal “translation”  to find meaning that speaks to us today vividly and personally. And yet, every now and again, something leaps out with astonishing directness, as if it was written not just for, but actually about the 21st century.

I had decided to write something about Psalms for this Thought and, finding myself mesmerised by Psalm 1, looked no further.  Surely only Genesis and St. John’s Gospel beat it for the opening of a Biblical book?

Psalm 1: Blessed are those who have not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, and have not lingered in the way of sinners, and have not sat in the assembly of the scornful…

I read this immediately following a bruising encounter with the ungodly on social media. There you will find far too little love of one’s neighbour, kindliness or wisdom. If you walk (the image occurs so often in the Bible as an idea of letting your life be ruled by something or somebody) following the advice, principles and opinions of bigoted bloggers, influencers and twitterati, you risk cancelling God. The Psalmist recognises that we cannot avoid the vexatious, but goes beyond advising us to limit our time in their company (online at least!) by promising us that blessing can be found in so doing.

I thought of this line too as I watched Prime Minister’s Question Time – truly at that point of the Parliamentary week an “assembly of the scornful”, each side hurling insults and sound-bites at the other. This was followed later that week by Donald Trump attacking Joe Biden as a moronic criminal nonentity, and members of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, throwing punches at each other. We want to trust that our politicians have our best interests at heart rather than their own, while seeing all too often how rational exchange of ideas and tolerance of difference get crowded out by division and mockery.

The Psalmist offers us a different way: you are blessed when your delight is in  the law of the Lord… you will be like a tree planted by the waterside…whatsoever you do, it will prosper.

I don’t think that what is meant here is following the strict Mosaic laws, but the whole structure of a life lived in tune with God. Similarly, the prosperity promised is not that of a successful business plan but of a happy life.  The Lord knows the way of the righteous in both senses – he knows the best way for us to travel in our lives and also watches over us as we seek to follow it.

Let’s put it like this. Two Thinkers recently attended an open-air concert on the wettest day of the summer in Chelmsford. One heard only the music; one felt only the rain. Both were blessed by God, but only one had the heart open to delight in that blessing.

Or this: Ali Travis wrote in the Sunday Times that same week that the year of his diagnosis with incurable brain cancer was the happiest of his life, because in the light of mortality, those things that are pointless and empty, such as jealousy, ambition and strife, are swept aside in overwhelming gratitude for the daily blessing of life.

The world of the Psalms, like ours, is often full of injustice, warfare and suffering; but we can turn aside from prevailing paths of destruction. Blessed, indeed, are all of us.