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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 25

Written by Edmund Newey, posted on Saturday, April 25, 2020

In these extraordinary times, as our nation and our world face the unprecedented challenge of the Coronavirus epidemic, our first task is naturally to support and enable the efforts of frontline staff tackling the disease and supporting those who have fallen ill. As we engage in every way we can with their work, we as Christians turn for guidance to God, in whom we have our origin and our end.

Here at Christ Church the book of Psalms – the prayer book of the Bible, as it is sometimes called – sustains our daily worship, now as always. Public worship is no longer an option, but the cathedral clergy here are maintaining the daily round of prayer and warmly encourage you to share in the spiritual communion that prayer makes possible across all boundaries of time and space.

At the core of this work of prayer the psalms voice the cry of our hearts to God. With this in mind the ministry team here is sharing one psalm each day with an accompanying reflection. Recalling the University of Oxford’s motto, Dominus illuminatio mea – ‘The Lord is my light’ – we pray that, together, we may know God’s strength, encouragement and blessing in this time of need.

‘The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom then shall I fear: the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1)

Edmund Newey, Sub Dean

Figures and letters N and OPsalm 14

  1. The fool hath said in his heart *
     There is no God.
    2  They are corrupt, and become abominable in their doings *
     there is none that doeth good, no not one.
    3  The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men *
     to see if there were any that would understand, and seek after God.
    4  But they are all gone out of the way, they are altogether become abominable *
     there is none that doeth good, no not one.
    5  Their throat is an open sepulchre, with their tongues have they deceived *
     the poison of asps is under their lips.
    6  Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness *
     their feet are swift to shed blood.
    7  Destruction and unhappiness is in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known *
     there is no fear of God before their eyes.
    8  Have they no knowledge, that they are all such workers of mischief *
     eating up my people as it were bread, and call not upon the Lord?
    9  There were they brought in great fear, even where no fear was *
     for God is in the generation of the righteous.
    10  As for you, ye have made a mock at the counsel of the poor *
     because he putteth his trust in the Lord.
    11  Who shall give salvation unto Israel out of Sion? When the Lord turneth the captivity of his people *
     then shall Jacob rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.

In the Book of Common Prayer, this psalm shares with its near cognate, Psalm 53, the Latin inscription, dixit insipiens. Except in some passages in the book of Job nowhere do the scriptures come closer than this to entertaining the possibility of atheism: ‘The fool hath said in this heart there is no God’.

This is not, as might first appear, a self-satisfied critique by the godly psalmist of the godless folly of others. Rather it is his recognition of the latent atheism that afflicts even the holiest. The psalmist ‘looks down’ from the divine perspective, but even as he does so he recognises that he too is numbered among those who ‘have gone out of the way’.

The folly we all suffer from is to have ‘no fear of God before [our] eyes’. Such fear is not cringing self-abasement but a recognition of our place in the order of things. Homo insipiens stands in contrast to homo sapiens: to be the former is to lose our humanity, to be the latter is to be both fully human and in proper relationship with both God.

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Proverbs 9:10): wise with that fear we embark upon the way of peace, on which we learn to love God, self, neighbour – and finally even enemy – alike.

Edmund Newey