Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Transcendence, Poverty and Loneliness: Psalm 113

Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts up the needy from the ash heap,
To make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
Making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 113:5-9)

One of the connections often missing in our theology is the link between worship and social justice, a link that is strongly made throughout the Bible (e.g. Isaiah 58; James 1:27). At first reading I thought that was what was going on here in Psalm 113. But then I realised this psalm isn't directly addressing human justice but God's. God's transcendant otherness is described analogically here as being 'on high,' above both the 'heavens and the earth.' This might suggest that God is not concerned with such earthly and material issues as poverty and social exclusion.* But that is not the case. Instead, from God's transcendant perspective ('who looks far down') that which is important is the poor and needy and those without the structures of support that enable human living. God's agenda is to elevate the lowly and to place the lonely in loving families.

There is a tendency among the religious that the more otherworldly, 'spiritual,' and 'holy,' our beliefs are, the less concerned we are with the material and human. Psalm 113 shows how far this misses the mark. Who is like the Lord our God? Those who are most like God are the ones whose transcendant perspective (Spirituality) causes them to love and serve the poor, needy and excluded. And this is what the God we worship is like. Praise the Lord!

* In the historical context of this psalm childlessness implied both social stigma and economic insecurity.

1 comment:

  1. I like this idea very much. To me it suggests that when God looks at us he doesn't see our position of need, exclusion and poverty - he purely sees a person worthy to sit with princes, or someone able to be fulfilled and protected and provided for.
    I certainly like the idea of those being like the Lord our God to also love those excluded.
    Yup, that's got me thinking for the day.