Choosing a God
I continue to use the lectionary every day. As I have said before, the lectionary is a selection of daily readings, usually for devotional purposes. Lectio in Latin simply means “reading.” If you like words, that Latin term gives us our English word, lectern, the stand upon which books are placed so someone can read the book or notes. A podium, one the other hand, is that upon which one stands---places your feet. So we stand on the podium and read from a lectern. Those words are often confused and used wrongly.
The daily lectionary I choose to use is the Benedictine one. The Benedictine monks around the world use the same lectionary. They have chosen some passages from the Old Testament and from the New Testament that are read at every one of their various worship times through the day. I try on a daily basis to read the morning selection and the evening one. I could choose my own, but for me it is nice to have someone else choose. My goal is to do some devotional reading, not simply to choose it.
The morning reading for today had a selection from the Psalms. In fact every time the Benedictines gather for worship, some selection from the Psalms is chosen. Since I did not grow up using the Psalms, I like this feature. The Psalms were the songbook of the Jews, so I like being linked to that tradition from which Christianity sprung. The particular selection I focused on today had one line that I would like to share and then upon which to reflect.
The Psalmist says, “O God, your ways are holy, what god is as great as our God?” (Ps 77:13) On the surface this seems like a pretty simple one-liner and maybe does not seem all that special. When I sat in reflection upon it, however, some significant things began to emerge. The one-liner apparently has both a declaration and a question packaged into one sentence. The first half is the declaration. The Psalmist declares that God’s ways are holy. I believe and like that affirmation.
As I read this, I get the sense the Psalmist is aligning himself with the God whom he thinks is holy. In fact, I would push it a little further. That God is God because God is holy. When I was in college, one of the things I learned that differentiated God from the rest of creation was the element of holiness.
This way of looking at God affirms that only God is holy or sacred by nature. That means God is naturally sacred. In fact that is how you define God: what is sacred is divine. The rest of us---the rest of creation---is not holy by nature. But we do participate in the holy. We can become holy, but never in the way God is. The beauty of this perspective is it says none of us is god, but we can become God-like.
The last half of the Psalm we are looking at it really a question. The Psalmist asks, what god is as great as our God? This question fascinates me and, I admit, I was not sure in the beginning what to do with it. But more reflection opened up an interesting interpretation. Certainly, the Psalmist is allowing that there may be other gods than the one God who is holy. Many of us are so into one God that we have never even considered this. But it is worth pondering.
As I ponder it, I realized people do choose other gods than the one, holy God of the Christian Bible. Those gods would be the things to which we give our attention, time, effort---indeed, devotion. The two gods that fit this category are typically identified as fame and fortune. If my sole goal in life is to become famous, then fame is the god of my choice. And if being stinking rich is my aim, the same choice has been made. I do think people make choices in both of these directions---fame and fortune. Those have not been my choices.
Having thought about it for a while, I began to see that one early god I believe I chose is perfectionism. For too many reasons to go into, it is true that too many of my years were spent playing the perfectionism game. Of course, I was not really perfect, but I pretended to be; I acted as if I were. Psychologists would say that I was living out of my “ideal self.”
There is an obvious correlation between an ideal self and idolatry. I would distinguish two states. My real self---the only self I can actually be---can never be idolatrous. I won’t worship my true self. I know that self to be good, but not perfect. I sin and sometimes fall short. The ideal self ignores this reality and pretends that I am perfect, sinless and always on target. In effect, this is to make myself a god.
I can choose to live with the illusion that I am god. But that only me into my own idol. Of course, that is foolish. Perhaps it is even more foolish that choosing fame and fortune for my gods. Whatever we choose to be our god is a bad choice. It prevent us from knowing and following the one, true God. And after all, that is the only Source of true life. Choose wisely.