1 Praise God! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD And finds delight in following his word. 2 His children will be mighty in the land; His line will know the blessing of God’s hand.
3 Riches and wealth within his house are found; His righteousness for ever will abound. 4 The man who stands for mercy, truth and right Will find the darkness turn to morning light.
5 Good is the man who gives and freely lends; To his affairs with justice he attends. 6 Surely a righteous man will stand secure; His memory for ever will endure.
7 Though bad news comes, he will not be afraid; His heart is firm; he trusts the LORD for aid. 8 He will not be alarmed, his heart holds fast; He’ll view his foes in triumph at the last.
9 He freely shares his riches with the poor; His righteousness for ever will endure. The LORD himself exalts his servant’s name; He gives him strength and dignity and fame.
10 The wicked, seeing this, will feel dismay; He’ll gnash his teeth and soon will waste away. The wicked and their dreams will come to nought; They never will enjoy what they have sought.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Chilton Foliat here.
Reading this Psalm, I’m struck that our version uses 28 male pronouns, for either God or a person – it’s in the singular, about individuals. Let’s keep travelling along the road toward inclusive language. Witness Brian Wren: ‘… that “man” originally meant “a human being”, male or female or “humankind as a whole” is irrelevant if it no longer conveys those meanings unambiguously.’
But then I lingered at verse 7: ‘Though bad news comes, [the righteous] will not be afraid…’. Really? If, as Psalms 111 and 112 suggest, a righteous person is one who keeps the commandments of God, can we unfailingly claim that they will not be afraid? Well, if righteousness is just about narrowly, anxiously obeying some rules, then there is little evidence that such a righteous one is exempt from fear. Real fear can be a visceral thing – a discombobulating gut-wrenching, not least when breaking the law or feeling that life is spinning out of control. Often, all that eases fear is someone else’s companionship – their walking with us through the ‘bad news’. Is that what this Psalmist means?
Alternatively, the commandments can be seen as about our relationship with God, and with each other. To keep the commandments – like practising justice, caring for the poor – nourishes our trust in God and our confidence in those around us. Thus could it be that ‘when bad news comes’ the righteous – the one who finds God’s grace in the commandments – is indeed less afraid? Maybe that is why the hymn, Abide with me, means so much to us. We sing it when bad news comes; it is our reaching out for the hand of God in the risen Christ, who so reliably, so resiliently walks with us. ‘I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless.’
Eternal God, we come seeking you, but not to test you, nor, in finding you, to bind you to an image or a gesture. We need from you no tricks to prove you exist. No miracles. Just a clearer sense of your love, by which, walking with you as our companion, we are freed from fear, through Jesus Christ, Amen.
after a poem of Rainer Maria Rilke
The Revd Nigel Uden, Downing Place URC, Fulbourn URC and Stetchworth & Cheveley URC in Cambridgeshire and a Moderator of the General Assembly.