Psalm 53 - Are there any who are wise?
To the leader: according to Mahalath. A Maskil of David.
They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts;
there is no one who does good.
2) God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
3) They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.
4) Have they no knowledge, those evildoers,
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon God?
5) There they shall be in great terror,
in terror such as has not been.
For God will scatter the bones of the ungodly;
they will be put to shame, for God has rejected them.
6) O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When God restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.
Not included in the Revised Common Lectionary.
We know those who look at the world and wonder if there any who are wise, who seek after God. You can hear this from our pulpits. You can hear it elsewhere in the Bible, when humanity's faithfulness appears in doubt. Some days we may hear the same words from our lips or feel them in our hearts.
It is easy to find examples of the ungodly, of injustice, of the many ways in which people are far away from God's vision of righteousness.
I don't know how much this psalm reflects God's view of the world. But it certainly says something about us.
Our eyes, our minds, and our spirit are designed to focus. And we have a tendency to notice only what we notice. Our media prioritizes bad news, and so does our attention. And our psychology may bias us to regard our position, our experience as overly important, even universal. Nor is this a new phenomenon driven by social media or cable news.
Remember Elijah, who after fleeing into the desert, despaired that he was the only servant of God left. Yet God knew there were 7,000 more faithful ones still left in Israel (1 Kings 19).
God's vision is so much broader than ours. God sees not only what is going wrong. But God also knows what is going right, what seeds are growing in the soil, what plans are still unfolding.
Despite its dystopian view, this psalm ends on a prayer of hope, that deliverance will come from Zion - that is, from God's ordained stronghold. God's people will be restored, and the nation rejoice.
Hold onto that hope. And set aside for a moment the idea that this is commentary on the world. Might it not be used as a prayer of self-examination?
If "there is no one who does good, no, not one," is that not a clue to look to our own faithfulness? Surely we can find in our lives many points where we:
- Have taken advantage of others (v4)?
- Have done something shameful (v1)?
- Have fallen away from God, perhaps by trusting other "gods" (v3)?
- Have failed to call upon God
The fearsome God of wrath, who scatters bones, should strike terror. We justly fear the results of sin, and we should do all be can to remove it from our thoughts, words, and deeds.
But we do well to remember the God of patience, and grace, who loves beyond measure. We will rejoice and be glad. Not because we are so wise, but because God takes what good lives in us and magnifies it. Seek after God, call upon God, and let God do what God will with us. That's one who is wise.
Michelangelo, God in Heaven. Public domain.
* 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.