This psalm uses the contrasting images of the cup of blood libation to gods that are false, which places their names upon you, and the cup of thanksgiving to the true God that puts you under that Living One’s shelter. The imagery is at once both visceral and seemingly very far removed from my day to day life. After all, I do not feel the pull to go into an altar to someone unknown gods, sacrifice an animal, and pour its blood upon the altar. In fact I can think of fewer things further from my interest.
To add to my disconnect, in my own theology I do not believe there are other gods There is only One God known to people of all faiths by different symbols and names. This One God is the same One whom I experience as the Loving Father of Jesus Christ, as God made flesh and blood for me and you in Jesus, and as the Mothering Spirit of Life who descended on Jesus as a brooding mother dove in the person of the Holy Spirit. This One is the One whom I now experience through the Spirit as the life-giving guiding presence of God within my heart and life. So the threat of the literal false gods of this passage are far from me.
Yet in the ancient world often these gods were the personification of the powers of this world, which can animate our lives and become the driving force for our existence: drives like fertility, experienced on the one side as romance or lust, and on the other hand asfamily and parenthood; forces like wealth, with its drive to acquisition, success and power; of battle, expressed in warfare and violence but also in competition to be top dog. I could go on.
Whenever I reflect on texts contrasting the call of the altar of false god and the call of the Living God now, I reflect on where these powers are at work calling me to make them the centerpiece.
I remember a time when the call to romance and love struck deep, where the young lady I was drawn to seemed for moments more important than the larger issues of life, than the call from God to go and be the person I was called to be. As a young man I felt that call to make romantic love the centerpiece when, if embraced then and there in that way, I would have for a time laid my own calling (and the person whom I felt that romantic love for’s calling) aside. As the Song of Songs warned, a love awakened in that way before its time can be a trap. I learned some about how romance is good, but cannot be the center. It must also be guided by an openness to God, questions of is it God’s time, God’s will. I am thankful for the ways God slowed down my feelings of youthful romance and guided me on another path.
I’ve also experienced where the call to acquire money and success whispered at me. It is not that having money to support your family or a sense of accomplishment is bad. But I’ve had times that I have been in situations, as have you, where the easy way to get ahead has meant sacrificing my integrity and I had to decide “do I want to get ahead or do I want to be true to who God called me to be?” In those moments we are called to decide between the false god of material success and the true and Living God.
This calling comes in many more ways.
As I reflect on these calls, I am thankful that it is not an either/or choice. A part of the message in the Hebrew Scriptures when we are invited to resist the call of false gods for the true and Living God is that the reason we must do so is that those idols are not gods at all, but rather gifts of the Good God to us. So to pursue the gift without knowing the God who gives is to pursue a fleeting and insubstantial thing. However to truly pursue the good God who gives life and every good gift, though maybe not your every wish (for God is not a genie in a bottle) enables you to receive these gifts in the best time and manner which God has picked, and in an attitude where you know who gave them so that you can use them in a manner fitting a child of God. Then you and they can be reflections of the love, grace, and care of God for all of us.
Let’s consider the ways in which we daily may choose either the cup of God or the cup of these false values which offer short term success or pleasure but offer emptiness and want over the long term. Let’s remember to go and center our lives on the altar of God, raising the cup of thanksgiving to the Living One, who offers the gifts we need and also the wholeness of heart and life which makes those gifts truly life-giving.