The competitive environment of our culture is marked by a kind of Darwinian “survival of the fittest” approach to life, which is nothing less than a prescription for a living hell.
Psalm 131 is the shortest of the psalms. It is only three verses in length. But its brevity belies an hugely important truth for the believer. What is that truth? That humility is both the bond and the peace of the one who has come to understand that one is, first and foremost, a child of God. This humility is also the ultimate sign of trust. And this trust is compared to that of a child, a weaned child, fed and at rest in its mother’s lap. It is a beautiful image. This is what God has to offer to the one who lets go of the ultimately mythical claim of absolute self-sufficiency. It is the realization, in faith, that one is ultimately dependent on nothing less than the nurturing, eternally faithful, love of God.
Once again, we see the challenge of our faith in contrast to the powerful messages of our own culture. One of the strongest messages of our so-called “post-modern” culture is the one that says that life is a heartless, fierce, no-holds-barred competition, and one’s only goal is to be “number one.” In our world of utilitarian ethics that translates to an attitude of, “The ends justify the means,” that is, any means. Humility and trust are alien ideas in such an environment. But the psalmist has come to a very different insight here, and it is one that we, as Christians in this culture, need to meditate on regularly. The paradox here is that we are, in fact, in a battle, but it is not to be number one, rather, it is a battle for our very souls.
In reality, then, what is the benefit of humility? The greatest benefit is that it recognizes the real truth, that all others are our brothers and sisters, not competitors. The competitive environment of our culture is marked by a kind of Darwinian “survival of the fittest” approach to life, which is nothing less than a prescription for a living hell. Humility, on the other hand recognizes the importance of community, of self-sacrifice in respect of the common good, and that this is the will of God, the One who IS love. A competitive environment requires winners and losers. In this kind of an environment the winners are always fewer than the losers and the losers are obsessed with becoming winners. Practicality, rather than compassion, becomes the driver in such an environment. We are not ignorant of the consequences of this kind of attitude in our culture, are we? The news is full of the consequences of this survival of the fittest mentality. So much so that deep down we all know that something is very wrong.
The psalmist gives us a look at a very different world view in this short “song of ascent.” He has come to know who he really is and this knowledge has brought him a profound sense of peace. He has let go of the foolishness of false pride and the attitude of haughtiness toward others that is so common to such pride, and this has caused a profound sense of peace within himself. As a ruler of others, this attitude makes it possible for David to rule his people with compassionate justice, in other words, with real justice, not that of a vengeful, artificial, self-concerned and haughty authority. This is so, because he has recognized that he, the king, is a sinner, just like every one of his people. He is no greater than the least among them, particularly in the eyes of God. True and righteous justice can only come from such humility. David has let go of pride because he has come to realize his dependence on the love and forgiveness of God. He has discovered the peace that can only come from God. Is this not completely counter to what our culture teaches? Yet, is it not this peace of “a weaned child at rest in its mother’s arms” that we all want? Do we not want to be freed from this fierce battlefield of heartless competition. Do we not want a society that recognizes the common good of all and honors it. Does it not make sense that humility is a far greater provider of this communal, common good than this, “mad, mad, mad, mad world” of competition that so tortures our relationships with others today? This is why our culture and the world needs true and real Christianity, that is, a Christianity that is not a mere “philosophy of life; or that is simply an “accessory to living.” This humility and trust is the transcendent and empowering wisdom of God. It is the only true source of real peace and real justice.
Lord, save us from this world’s temptations to false pride. Give us the grace, rather, of a humble heart. Help us to say with David: “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 131) In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen!
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