"If it had not been the Lord who was on our side — let Israel now say —if it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us, then they would have swallowed us up alive." - Psalm 124:1-3
In his anti-war anthem, "With God on Our Side," Bob Dylan hammered home how often God is invoked to sanction the most ungodly of human causes and wars.
Dylan was right. And so too was Abraham Lincoln who said our concern ought to be less whether God is on our side than to ask if we are on God's side.
So the joyous acclamation of Psalm 124 — "If it had not been the Lord who was on our side" — is tempered.
Can we sing it? Can we say it?
Can we not?
In the psalm, those who have been delivered, who rejoice that God has taken their side, are not the powerful or the cocksure. They are those with little apparent power and with zero social clout.
They are like the tiny bird that has escaped the fowler's snare (verse 7).
This is David with his five stones versus Goliath and the Philistine army. It is Mary with her baby stalked by Herod. This is Paul clinging to the flotsam of yet another shipwreck and singing God's praise.
Claims of God's astonishing grace lie best on the tongues of the least, of those who know they absolutely, desperately, need God. They ring true in the songs of the stunned and grateful, not the smug and powerful.
They do not belong to those who use God to sanctify their own causes or way of life, but to those used by God to, as Mary sang, "scatter those who are proud in the imagination of their hearts" and to "bring down the powerful."
Astonish us, O Lord, with your strange power made perfect in weakness, with your capacity to lift up the lowly and confound the mighty. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. He is the author of many books, including What’s Theology Got to Do With It: Convictions, Vitality and the Church. You can read Tony's "Weekly Meditation" and "What's Tony Thinking?" at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.