Psalm 20v7-8: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.” Who, or what, are you trusting in at this time?
I was struck by a phrase I heard on the radio yesterday. The context was, I think, a news item about concerns for the Care Sector in the UK – something that was very much in the news yesterday. And one commentator was reflecting on the way the focus had been very much on the NHS and how the Care Sector had been, relatively speaking, neglected. And then she commented, if I heard correctly, that we, as a nation, had a “quasi-religious attitude to the NHS”.
It brought to mind a book that was popular among Christian students in the dim distant past when I was a student! The book was called “Idols Of Our Time” (by Bob Goudzward – a professor of economics and a former member of the Dutch Parliament). He is picking up on the idea that we read of idols made of stone and metal in the Old Testament, and is looking at what are the “idols of our time”. He points out that our gods (our idols if they are not the true God), are the things that we look to to meet our deepest needs. He makes a comment that seems prophetic nearly 40 years later (if we see the NHS as part of the Welfare State): “Let us be honest: our attitude toward the welfare state is a religious matter. To many people and institutions it is a god, to which you may put your request and from which you may expect everything: your work, your housing and your economic security. But this god fails us precisely at the critical moment, when the expectations reach their climax. The ritual around the welfare state today is a ritual around a hollow idol, officiated by a priesthood of politicians.” (p56)
Don’t misunderstand me: we must thank God for those in the NHS (and a host of other key industries) who are working tirelessly and at great personal risk to provide essential services for us. My point (and Bob Goudzward’s point) is in no way a criticism of them, it is a criticism of our attitude as a nation. The “theme of the moment” in the news seems to be a stream of criticism of the government for failing to provide the NHS, the Care Sector, and a host of other key workers, with all the resources they need for handling this crisis. Doubtless the government and the Civil Service haven’t been perfect in the way they have handled matters – though I am sure they are working flat out and doing their best – but the underlying attitude behind the criticisms does seem be an expectation that it is possible for the NHS to meet all our needs if it is properly resourced. The criticisms blame the “priests” – the politicians who are supposed to “feed the idol” with all the “food” it could possibly want – because there is a refusal to accept that the “idol” – the NHS – can’t meet all our needs. Actually the problem is our idolatry: the NHS, the Care Sector, etc are doing a phenomenal job, but they aren’t God – and we are idol-worshippers if we treat them as though they can supply all our needs. We need to hear Bob Goudzward’s point: namely that idols “fail us precisely at the critical moment, when the expectations reach their climax”.
Which brings us back to Psalm 20v7-8: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.” If David had been writing in the UK in 2020, he may have written something like this, “Some trust in the NHS and some in the Care Sector, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.”
Where is your confidence during this plague? Our confidence must be “in the name of the LORD our God”. That is the only way, ultimately, to “rise up and stand firm”. That doesn’t mean that we treat God as some sort of “lucky charm” against getting Covid-19, or from it leading to us and those we love becoming seriously ill or dying. No, in the mystery of God’s will, you and I may become seriously ill, and even die, from this disease. (Just reflect on how, in Acts 12, James is put to death while Peter is miraculously rescued.) But whatever happens to us, nothing can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 8v39. Even if we die, we who trust in the LORD our God will certainly “rise up and stand firm”.
At this time we need to be disciplined in keeping our eyes firmly fixed on God, disciplined in turning to him in prayer, committed to bringing all our anxieties and cares to him. He must be the one we are trusting in, not any idol – not even the NHS, however wonderful it is.
Two suggestions for hymns: