Psalm 36 - I have a message from God in my heart

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A Psalm of David.
1) I have a message from God in my heart
concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:
There is no fear of God
before their eyes.
2) In their own eyes they flatter themselves
too much to detect or hate their sin.
3) The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;
they fail to act wisely or do good.
4) Even on their beds they plot evil;
they commit themselves to a sinful course
and do not reject what is wrong.

5) Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
6) Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
7) How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8) They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
9) For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
10) Continue your love to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.
11) May the foot of the proud not come against me,
nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
12) See how the evildoers lie fallen—
thrown down, not able to rise!
Psalm 36 (NRSV*)
2nd Sunday after Epiphany, Year A
Monday of Holy Week

Many, many psalms address the problems posed by "the wicked." How is it that evildoers flourish under the reign of a justice-loving, righteous God? How are the faithful, who hope for God's provident treatment, to cope with this vexing reality?

Sometimes the problem preoccupies us. We run the risk of letting our preoccupation with "the wicked" obscure our view of, and attention to the Lord in whom we hope and trust.

Yet this psalm is evildoer-focused. "I have a message from God in my heart," and it is not about God's loving-kindness, but the sinfulness of the wicked.

In case you need it, there are some diagnostic signs to recognize the wicked:
  • They do not see fear of God (neither for themselves or in others);
  • They flatter themselves, so they cannot hate or even see their sin;
  • They lie and deceive;
  • They commit their time to plotting evil;
  • They show no wisdom, and do not spend their days doing good.

Perhaps you can think of someone who fits this description. We may even recognize ourselves, at least at some times and in some particulars.

While we may fantasize about being in the clouds with God's glory, our reality too often means that evil is one of our major concerns. Even if we could, we are not called to ignore evil, rather to not succumb to it, to not encourage or enable it.

Evil is dangerous, for its contagious quality, coupled with our own lack of care to prevent infection. We have a seemingly boundless capacity to deceive ourselves that we are in the right, and that we will not be affected by contact with wickedness. Yet how often it is that our opposition to "the wicked" leads us into sin, and it matters little whether our fall is sudden, or a gradual slide. The result is calamitous.

So the "message from God in my heart, concerning the sinfulness of the wicked" seems to be less-focused on the wicked, than a preventive measure directed at those at-risk, i.e. you and me.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! The one who protects both people and animals, the one who offers refuge to those in need, who provides abundantly, who is light and life, offers us a way past evil.

Let not the hand of the wicked drive me away, and continue your love to those who know you, my righteous Lord.

Johannes Gossner, Philipp Friedrich Pöschel, The heart of man - either a temple of God, or a habitation of Satan - represented in ten emblematical figures, calculated to awaken and promote a Christian disposition. Harrisburg, PA: Lutz & Scheffer, 1851. Public domain (CC0 1.0).
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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