19 Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail;
   let the nations be judged before you.

20 Put them in fear, O Lord;
   let the nations know that they are only human.

HP articulates at the end of this Psalm a justifiable horror at human arrogance. He prays,

let the nations know that they are only human.

He seems genuinely sensitive to the dire effects of human pride. When I think that I can “prevail” over life, I am headed into dangerous territory. I need to be put “in fear.” Human presumption is always a recipe for disaster. The illusion of my own belief that I can “prevail” is the root of the arrogance of “the nations” that need to “be judged” in order that they might come to see more clearly their true state and view reality with greater humility – “let the nations know that they are only human.”

In most contexts, I am not a big fan of the expression “Well I am only human,” by which people seek to excuse their behavior. To say, “Well I am only human,” to justify abhorrent behaviour, is a trivialisation and diminishment of the beauty of what it means to be truly human. To be “only human” is to live as a child of the Divine. I am a being created in the image of that beauty and light we call God. My problem is not that I am “only human,” but that I so often live as something less than human.

But HP is using the expression “only human” in a slightly different way in Psalm 9. Here he is calling the arrogant nations back to an awareness of the profound limitations of their capacity to understand and to conduct their affairs in such a way that they might exist as a source of light and truth for all people. When we forget our limitations – that we “are only human” – we risk inflicting the violence of our arrogant attitudes on other people and creating a brutal, divided and violent human community.

What are the signs that I have moved from excusing my behaviour as “only human” to the arrogance of believing I am something greater than “only human”?

Lord, help me to have a realistic vision of what it means to be truly and deeply human.