Psalm 67: Avoiding Triumphalism

 April 9, 2019

In high school I read the short story “The Misbegotten Missionary” by Isaac Asimov. In the story, a small alien hitched a ride on a space ship. His mission: to save us from our own aloneness and destructiveness by making all “one,” a precursor to the Borg Collective on Star Trek. This alien had the best intentions. What he didn’t realize was how much we humans value our individuality. In saving us he would rob us of one of our deepest treasures. The writer of Psalm 67 borders on the same mistake.

Psalm 67

Psalm 67 is a simple hymn of praise and thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. To give thanks is a good act; it denotes a grateful heart, thankful to God for all of the good things in life. This psalm of thanksgiving was used for the Feast of Tabernacles, a major celebration for the Hebrew people.

Yet there is a danger in giving thanks. If we aren’t careful our thanks can become a form of triumphalism, much like the Pharisee in the gospels who gives thanks that he is not like the publican (Luke 18:9-14).

Humility as a Guard Against Pride

The author of Psalm 67 begins with a prayer of blessing and contrition, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us (1),” the well-known benediction from Numbers 6:23-26. It is a prayer asking that God be good to his people despite their unworthiness. In the Psalms, pride may express itself by claiming that God’s blessing are our due—that we deserve the good God gives us. Recognizing the danger in this, the writer begins with this blessing prayer that acknowledges that God’s blessings have everything to do with God’s goodness and nothing to do with us.

Another danger is to presume that everyone else wants what we have, like the alien in Asimov’s story. The writer magnanimously extends these blessings beyond the Hebrew nation to all people, “that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” Their God has blessed them with a good harvest and so the writer wants to share this blessing with everyone, “The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us. God has blessed us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!” (6-7)

Well intended, as long as the writer doesn’t impose this on others against their will. Reading Asimov’s story opened my mind to the importance of understanding others before trying to “do good,” no matter how well-intentioned.

Psalms of Orientation

Psalm 67 is a simple, beautiful psalm. It is one of the psalms of orientation Walter Brueggemann talks about. God is in his heaven, all are blessed. But we also see the beginning of missionary fervor. “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.” (4)

Wouldn’t it be great if all people followed the guidance of our God? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone got along, no-one went hungry or wanted for what is most necessary in life? This is precisely what the alien in Asimov’s story was offering humankind. Who wouldn’t want this? It would be a good, but only if freely chosen. Everyone has to choose to follow Jesus; no one can do it for them. Who are we to deprive others of the gift of free will God gave us?

As winter gives way to spring, flowers begin to burst forth through the soil, people come out of hibernation to ride bikes and play ball, our hearts naturally turn to praise of God. Our God has truly blessed us, unworthy though we may be. The surest guard against triumphalism is humility before our God.

Does anyone else remember reading Asimov’s short story in high school? What other stories have impacted your life?

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This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of  Still Dancingthe second book in my Dancing through Life Series.      click here to sign up

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