Updated: Mar 18, 2020
Psalm 118 and Freedom from other’s opinions
I will not fear. What can man do to me? Where does this confidence come from?
Psalm 118 is a litany of familiar lines. Here are a few of the most well-known:
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; For his steadfast love endures forever. (vs. 1 and 29 – bookending the Psalm)
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. (v. 14 from Exodus 15:2, the song of Moses)
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. (vs. 22 quoted in Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:7 a favorite New Testament reference to Jesus)
This is the day that the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (v. 24 – the classic cross-stitch Bible verse hanging up in your grandma’s living room in the circle frame – a hoop, I think it’s called)
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! (v. 26 quoted by the crowd on Palm Sunday as Jesus enters into Jerusalem in Matthew 23, Mark 11 and Luke 19)
You could camp out in Psalm 118 for weeks – to pray it and make it your own, to understand the Psalm as a whole and how it holds all these great pieces together, to see the multiple ways it points to Jesus. But, today I want to pick up on one theme from verse 6.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? 118:6
There are, of course any number of answers to the question: What can man do to me? People can slander you, maim or manipulate you. Your boss can fire you, your co-workers can bully you, and the people whose opinions matter most can simply ignore you. Your spouse can cheat on you or belittle you or mock you. Your kids can laugh at you. Your neighbors can whisper to each other about the weeds in the cracks of your sidewalk.
We are controlled by others.
I was teaching an Old Testament survey class to a handful of college students and we were talking about the concept of idolatry. Idols are the things we put our trust in, the things from which we build our identity, the things we serve. I had the students list all the negative behaviors and attitudes they could. Their list included the basics: lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, anger, anxiety, eating disorders, various substance abuses and greed. We then tried to trace those actions and attitudes back to their root cause. What motivates someone to cheat? What are some of the root causes of anxiety? Why would someone deny themselves food? In almost every case the opinions of other people were the primary driving force of these behaviors. Fishermen don’t embellish the truth about their catch just for the sake of lying; they lie because they want to impress others. Students cheat to avoid the embarrassment of failing. More often than not this is all happening subconsciously. But the truth is, other people’s opinions control us.
We do not like to admit it but just look at your senior picture from high school. Why would you wear your hair like that? In middle school in the early 90’s we would tightly roll the bottom of our pants about two inches above the shoe. Why would anyone do that? Our pants weren’t too big. It looked ridiculous. The answer is simple; the people who matter most to us thought it was cool.
As we grow older, people’s opinions still control us; it just takes on different forms. All the escapes we use – binge watching Netflix, eating a whole sleeve of thin mints, drinking 2 glasses of wine to take off the edge, pornography, etc. – are often simply symptoms of how others control us. We escape because we want to avoid conversation with our spouse or because we felt slighted after our presentation at work or because we need a break from one more difficult conversation with our daughter. There is a reason why you feel you have to check Facebook twenty minutes after you post something – you need to know somebody out there likes you.
The allure of idolatry is that we believe what we worship will give us what we want. And the trade-off seems fairly simple at first. In the idol worship of the Ancient Near East you would simply pour out some wine or sacrifice a goat and you’d be promised healthy children, a bumper crop, or victory over your enemies. But of course the gods are fickle (because they aren’t real) and so you never know where you stand with them. They start demanding more and more (Molech demanded your children) and they start producing less and less.
When we bow down to worship the opinions of others it also seems fairly simple – just wear the right clothes, or produce a quality quarterly report, or get the grade. I remember worrying about getting an A in World Civilization my first semester of college far more than I cared about anything I actually learned in World Civilization. Why? Because I was building my identity on what other people thought of me and having a high GPA was something I could control. Guess what, no one has ever asked me what I got in World Civilization class in any interview or conversation I have ever had. In case you’re wondering I received a B, but it was Honors World Civilization, so there.
The opinions of others are as fickle as the pantheon of gods. You never know where you stand. And so life is lived in a constant state of anxiety. Am I enough in their eyes?
Longing for approval and fear of rejection is why pastors feel inadequate on Sunday evenings because they care too much about what people thought of their sermon. It is why Peter changed his behavior and wouldn’t eat with Gentile-Christians (Galatians 2