- All over the world, Christians who use the Book of Common Prayer in their worship will be hearing the same readings today, one of which is this portion of a psalm, describing the character of God as a being who, being powerful, does not mind stooping and recognizing the disenfranchised and lifting them up.
- The LORD is high above all nations,
- and his glory above the heavens.
- Who is like the LORD our God, who sits enthroned on high
- but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth?
- He takes up the weak out of the dust
- and lifts up the poor from the ashes.
- He sets them with the princes,
- with the princes of his people.
- He makes the woman of a childless house
- to be a joyful mother of children.
(Think of what childlessness was to that culture before bringing these words into the present day.)
I was thinking about these verses today. It would be easy to move to a glib, moralizing reminder that if God cares about the poor, so should we. But that’s jumping ahead. Instead, I started thinking about the character of God. This passage doesn’t ask us to do something, but just to know something about God.
You know, not all gods posited by all religions are shown as having this propensity to “stoop” so compassionately. It’s not a given at all.
I know I wouldn’t have the character for being God. I know, I know: neither have I been asked. I know it’s a funny thing to think about, and the thought only popped into my head for a second. But it was enough for me to re-capture, for a moment, a sense of why not to take this goodness for granted. I mean, I can muster up sympathy for the poor, and compassion for those in horrible, hopeless circumstances, but after awhile I get compassion fatigue.
And honestly, I don’t do a lot of seeking out the poor. When we visited New York, we stayed in Manhattan, and certainly had no particular desire to go into Harlem. When I have gotten lost driving in Nashville and ended up driving in circles in the projects, trying to find my way out, I have rolled up the windows and locked my car doors. I didn’t pull over, get out, and start introducing myself and inviting people to come out to dinner with me.
So Christianity posits a God who is not elitist. He’s not about hobnobbing with the powerful, and he’s not stand-offish from those who are different from Him. Probably from His position he probably doesn’t perceive a whole lot of difference in the range of human wealth and power: something else for which I should be glad–as I’d rather be included, if I may, when God stoops down to lift up the weak. If He’s the way Christianity and Judaism posit He is, he is infinitely admirable.