“My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121
When the ex-wrestler Jesse Ventura was Governor of Minnesota, the state of Iowa took a well-deserved rest from the endless mockery tossed our way by supposedly more sophisticated Minnesotans. After all, for a few interesting years, they had enough to laugh about up north.
Ventura was buff, built like a steel nail. I remember spotting a t-shirt, like the one above, in the Twin Cities Airport: “My governor can beat up your governor.”
Funny. But if I read this verse with an emphasis on my, it’s not hard to hear a similar kind of bravado. “My help from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. You can’t say that. My god can beat up your god.”
Because this is holy scripture, I’ll ease up on the writer: “Maker of heaven and earth” is a classic appositive, nothing more than an adjectival phrase, a one-line vitae; the poet wants only to make totally sure that everyone knows his sacred trust is not invested foolishly. That's the glorious intent.
Fine. A decade before Donald Trump was anything more than a real estate mogul, Rev. Jerry Falwell, who back then had more problems with hoof-and-mouth than all the feedlots in Nebraska, told a group of “his people” that a Hillary Clinton Presidential campaign would mobilize Christians to get out and vote like no one else. “If Lucifer ran,” he said, “he wouldn’t.”
Rev. Falwell meant well and prayed hard, but it’s almost impossible not to see that a similar sentiment (“I meant it tongue-in-cheek,” he told folks later) has created divisiveness in this culture, a political and social world of “us vs. them.” To many of “his people,” Lucifer was more qualified.
It seems impossible not to see that a species of fundamentalism ("what I believe!) is fomenting terrorist horrors throughout the world, including this week at a baseball diamond in Arlington, Virginia, where a Bernie Sanders zealot lugged a semi-automatic on to the infield and started picking off Republicans. When people believe they have sole ownership of the truth—of whatever kind--the opposition suddenly grows horns, a pointed tail, and cloven feet. Madmen load carbines or don suicide vests.
When praying people read a verse like this with a swelling emphasis on my, things can get dangerous fast. “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. Where do you get yours, loser?”
That the line can be misread doesn’t make the Bible any less “the Word of God.” Holy Writ is full of paradox and preposterous notions, marvelous tales, bloody battlefields, beautiful poetry, and eternal wisdom. It’s as powerful as it is dangerous.
Psalm 121 is pure praise, a jaw-dropping testimony to an ever-vigilant God who neither slumbers nor sleeps, whose eye is on every last sparrow and humanoid, who is his people’s shepherd.
I need to remember that divine assurance needs to be bound tightly in my heart, not in my fist.