Meditation on Psalm 36

December 21, 2016 (solstice)

The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes.

For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful.

 

At some point, there is a moral reckoning.

God affords us freedom; we can make choices.  And when we look on, we may be amazed at just how far God allows us to go; how long the consequences of our wrong choices are allowed to affect the world.  Think of Auschwitz and Birkenau.  Think of how long men and women were allowed to deceive themselves and to injure others.  We see the same sorts of drama played out on smaller scales in every life.  But there is a day of reckoning; there is a moral order to the universe and evil does contain within itself the “seeds of its own destruction.”  Truth will, finally, prevail.

Isn’t that what the psalmist is saying here?  That the wrongdoer – the tyrant, the bully, the libertine, the cheater – flatters himself:  What I am doing, he says, is not wrong, it is necessary for the greater good of all.  Or, of course I am going to take advantage of the ignorance of others, who wouldn’t?

And it seems that evil always draws a crowd of supporters and apologists.  Those who have no “fear of God.”  That is not mere poetic expression in our day.  In fact, the modern age has been marked by leaders (and followers) who quite literally and expressly disavow the whole idea of God and proclaim that the problems in the world are a direct result of people who have tried to follow God’s revelation.  (“Religion is the opiate of the masses . . .”  Marx)

But at some point, his iniquity [will] be found to be hateful.   The mask will at last be taken off.  That is to say, that when the craziness is allowed to run its course, when the balloon is finally inflated, people will see it for what it really is.

Puzzle

The first four verses of this psalm are clearly of one theme: the dynamics of evil within a human being.  But then in verse five the writer seems to leap away to another subject – the majesty of God – without segue or explanation.  It’s almost as if there were two (or three) different writings here that were conflated by some scribe centuries after the original writings.

At least that is how it may appear on the surface.  But the two ideas may be related.  Indeed, their relationship may have been so obvious to the psalmist that he (or she) felt no need for any parenthetic or explanation.

While the evil man is “flattering himself;” while he is glorying in his own wisdom and shrewdness, and while, day by day, the moral reality of his evil is becoming more and more undeniable, the character of God – what He has revealed to us about Himself – is sure and steady (“with him there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning”  James 1:17).  It is majestic, yes, but it is often ignored.

Maybe verses 5 through 7 are contrasting the everlasting truth and majesty of God – His “mercy,” His “faithfulness,” His “righteousness” and His “judgments”  – over against the superficiality of the philosophical trends and social fads of the day.

God’s wisdom is deeper than that of the philosophers and higher than that of the social engineers.  It is deeper than the ocean and higher than the clouds.  So deep and so high that it is finally beyond our comprehension.  We are called to trust Him.  The results of that trust are happy results.

His followers “drink from the river of pleasures” and in his light, they see light.

 

(You can get the whole Psalm on your screen by clicking here.)

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