Reflection - October 10, 2016

By Darren McClellan

published 10/10/2016
Dear Friends,

After watching as much of last night’s presidential debate as I could possibly stomach, I went to the garage for a workout, took a hot shower, and then prayed myself to sleep.  Of memory was Psalm 146: I will praise the Lord as long as I live…Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. 

Then I came to the office a little earlier than usual this morning to retrieve my copy of Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.  Hungry for solace, I turned immediately to the chapter on “Speaking in God’s Presence: The Importance of Civil Speech.”  Mouw’s argument is that civil people watch their language.  It is never a legitimate excuse to say, “I didn’t realize that anyone was listening” because God is always listening (even in the locker room). 

I wonder what these two candidates will possibly have left to say about each other in the final public debate before Election Day.  I also question the wisdom of promoting leaders whose credibility is based solely on the perceived capacity to dismantle their opponent at any cost.  I suspect this is our fault as much as it is their own.  If the pursuit of truth (and with it, the virtues of civility and integrity) remain secondary to the outright pursuit of power, then there is little mystery to our current misery. 

Rather than another predictable dose of hurling insults in the next debate, I imagine what it might mean if our two candidates were to humbly perform a responsive reading of Psalm 139:

            O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
            You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
            You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
            Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely…
            Where can I go from your Spirit?
            Or where can I flee from your presence? (vv. 1-4, 7-8)
How would that be for adding a bit of substance to these proceedings?  Perhaps, but I am not holding my breath.
Still, I have found Richard Mouw’s commentary on this passage to be both insightful and encouraging.  As he says,
“Getting cured of incivility means learning how to speak more honestly.  But I have insisted that civility runs deeper than words.  It is grounded in the way we view reality.  This means that we Christians must work to view things—as far as possible for mere mortals—the way God does…For eighteen marvelous verses the writer extols the mysteries of God’s knowledge and power.  Then he gets so overwhelmed by this spiritual exercise that he seems to slip into a crusading spirit for a few verses:
            Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
            And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
            I hate them with a perfect hatred;
            I count them my enemies. (139:21-22)
This is an understandable reaction, and in a sense it is perfectly legitimate.  God’s majesty is so awesome that everything pales in comparison…Can we do anything less than hate those who hate the Lord and loathe those who rise up against him? 
But abruptly the psalmist seems to catch himself.  He senses that it is rather presumptuous for a creature such as he to pretend to have either the knowledge or the integrity to possess a ‘perfect hatred’ of unrighteousness.  So (the psalmist) pleads, not for the defeat of the hosts of wicked ones, but for the correcting grace that will reach into the depth of his own being:
            Search me, O God, and know my heart;
            Test me and know my thoughts.
            See if there is any wicked way in me,
            And lead me in the way of everlasting. (vv. 23-24)
This is where the proper view of reality begins: in our own awareness of the divine gaze.  The Lord not only hears all—he sees all.  He knows not only our habits of speech; he sees the hearts in which those habits are formed” (Mouw, pp.53-55, emphasis mine).
O be careful, little tongue, what you say
O be careful, little tongue, what you say
For the Father up above is looking down in love
O be careful, little tongue what you say.
Lead me, Lord, lead me in thy righteousness,
make thy way plain before my face.
For it is thou, Lord, thou, Lord only,
that makest me dwell in safety.
May the “correcting grace” of God be with us all!