Have you ever been intimidated by vocal and vociferous critics of the Christian faith? During a small discussion on one of my social media feeds between a Christian friend and some atheist friends, one unbelieving friend shared a video clip in which English actor, and vocal atheist, Stephen Fry was interviewed by Gay Byrne on long-running Irish talk show The Meaning of Life. Byrne asked Fry to, for the sake of the question, assume that he was wrong about Christianity, and asked what he would say to God if he stood before him one day. Fry’s forthright, blasphemous assault on the Christian God stunned even the seasoned host.
As I watched the short clip, Fry’s tactic was evident. There was no real substance to his objection, but he clearly relied on the confident brashness of his answer to silence his critics. Say something with enough volume and (even feigned) confidence and you may well silence a great many who might otherwise respond.
I’ve been there. I clearly remember a discussion many years ago with a critic of Christianity. He was forwarding the well-worn argument that faith contradicts, and must remain subordinate to, science and that Christians are merely superstitious non-intellectuals who fear scientific enquiry. I offered a number of examples of Christians who had contributed meaningfully to scientific enquiry in recent centuries. He countered that all the examples I had given only came to faith later in life and that their contributions to science had been made before their conversion. The individual with whom I was conversing was, like Stephen Fry, very confident in his arguments and, in the moment, I assumed he must know what he is talking about. I had no answer to offer. Much later, I realised that, despite the confidence of his claim, it was largely baseless. But his confidence, in the moment, intimidated me into silence.
This challenge is not new. David knew something of the temptation, but he also knew how to counter it. Psalm 138 is a psalm of confession—not confession of sin but confession of confident faith in God. David writes of his commitment to sing Yahweh’s praise “before the gods” (v. 1). There is a good deal of discussion among interpreters as to how to identify “the gods” but David actually seems to identify these “gods” a little later in the psalm when he writes, “All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD” (vv. 4–5). It appears that “the gods” are “the kings of the earth” before whom David sang Yahweh’s praise (v. 1). They had heard the words of Yahweh’s mouth from David, who was confident that they would ultimately give thanks themselves to Yahweh. Leaders of pagan nations with their pagan religions would ultimately come to bow to Yahweh because of David’s confession.
David might well be tempted to be intimidated by these powerful kings (“gods”) with their powerful nations and (seemingly) powerful religions. But he knew how to respond to the temptation of intimidation: with confession. The loud objections of pagan kings would not silence his confession. He would continue to give thanks, to sing Yahweh’s praise, and to bow in worship toward his holy temple in the presence of these kings and “gods.” He would not allow them to silence him. In fact, he trusted his confession to silence them—either into similar confession or into shame on the day of judgement.
Centuries later, the Son of David picked up on the theme of Christian confession. He said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). Paul added that verbal confession of Jesus as Lord is crucial to faithful Christian living (Romans 10:9).
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Queen Gertrude responds to the overreaction of a particular character with these words: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Her loudness veiled the lack of substance of her protest, which is very frequently the same reality with loud protestations against Christianity. Psalm 138 reminds us, among other things, that we should not be intimidated into silence by the objections of influential critics of Christianity. Jesus is Lord and his people are called to unashamedly confess his power, authority, and steadfast love toward those who submit to him. This confession will be vindicated because his steadfast love endures forever and he will never forsake the work of his hands (v. 8).