For my devotions I read Psalm 14 this morning. The verse or sentiment repeated throughout it was:
3 They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.
My first thought was that the old Psalmist must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed or is at least being just a wee bit pessimistic, don’t you think? I mean, everyone is a baddie? No one ever does anything good? Does the Psalmist include him/herself in this assessment?
One can hardly blame the Psalmist. Read almost all the first 14 psalms and you can’t help but notice that he or she had a lot of problems, troubles, enemies. No wonder he/she was down on everyone and everything, even God! Read Psalm 13 and count how many times a personal complaint is made against even the Creator!
Still, this is a bit harsh, would you not agree? Swiping everyone with one broad brush. But then again doesn’t Isaiah say that “all we like sheep have gone astray”? (Which reminds me of a comic strip I saw once that had two sheep, and one said to the other, “All we like people have gone astray.”) Paul says much the same thing when he writes that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And I believe it was Karl Barth, the theologian, who said that of all the doctrines of the Christian faith, sin is the easiest to prove. If you need to ask how is that so, well, the evidence is everywhere.
In my emails each morning I get a long list of news items, telling me at a glance what went on over night and what’s currently happening. I think I am going to stop receviing them because they get my day off to such a bad beginning. They provide a lot of evidence that the pessimistic Psalmist might be onto a thing or two about his assessment of the human race.What is it with news folks anyway? Surely you can find what you are looking for news wise, right? I mean, if you want to report on good, positive things, they are there. Maybe, yes, they are not always so easy to find. But they are there for the finding. I guess, though, good news just doesn’t get ratings like the bad stuff. And what does that say about the human race, huh?
But I don’t have to look at the news to tell this. A mirror does just fine also. For I know that I am not always who I want to be, say the things I need to say, do the things I need to do. More often than I care to admit I fall ever so short of the glory of God. A friend of mine recently said the same thing to me (not about me) about himself. He was really worried about his falling short in so many ways. I know him pretty well. He’s a real good guy. He’s a Christian, probably a far better one than I am. If he’s having a Psalmist moment, I got a lot of them coming!
Seems to me that maybe there are two extremes we need to avoid in this. One is too pessimistic and the other too optimistic or unrealistic. One is reaching a point where all we see is sin, all we feel is guilt, where we can never think of ourselves or anyone else as being anything but bad. Is this really the way God wants us to live? The other is the opposite – reaching such a state in which we can no longer see the truth about ourselves, we see only what we want to see in the mirror, looking over our faults and failures and flaws, puffing ourselves up, never feeling sorrow or remorse about anything said or done or left unsaid or done.
Honestly, of these two states I am not sure which I would prefer if they were my only choices.
Perhaps there is a middle place in which to live. It is neither thinking too highly of ourselves or too lowly. It is not fixating on our flaws or overinflating our egos. It is living always in the knowledge that we are made in God’s image, that we have such great potential for good and even greatness, but that we also can and do make the wrong decisions, choose the wrong priorities, allow selfishness to rule us. Life in the middle keeps a healthy, realistic self perspective. It is recognizing that we believe, but need help with our unbelief. It is knowing ourselves, our weaknesses, that which would bring out the worst in us, but not allowing its weight to crush us, to become so pessimistic about ourselves and our world that we give up and give in to it all. Life in the middle is knowing that we will sometimes fall short of the mark, far short of it. But determining, knowing God is there to help us, to get back up and keep trying.
I cannot decide for others how they will live and think and act. The Psalmist is bothered, rightly so, by all the bad he sees about him. But what can he or you or I do about that, really? All we can do is strive to live each moment of each day to the fullest of the potential God has placed within us, to do what I can, what you can to bring just a little bit more love, good, care and compassion and light into the world. And maybe, maybe then those like the Pslamist, beaten down by life, just might get a glimmer of hope again that it doesn’t have to always be this way, that good can come into the world. Who knows, maybe even the media might take notice. But don’t hold your breath!