On Sunday we looked at Psalm 50 and its marked transition from Psalms 48 and 49. Whereas the previous two psalms comforted God's people and warned their enemies of judgment, Psalm 50 turned its watchful eye to the people of God and warned them against complacency and hypocrisy. The image of hypocrisy became most clear in verses 16 through 20:
But to the wicked God says:
“What right have you to recite my statutes
or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,
and you keep company with adulterers.
You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother’s son."
Sin will always entice you to feel free to address evil elsewhere but not in your own heart. We find a strange comfort in speaking piously and critiquing others, because it gives us a sense that we care about what is good and right and true. But God calls us to look deeper and see if our hearts really beat with his... if we are willing to ask whether or not we meet the standard that we so freely impose on others.
Notice how this section ends—a willingness to bite and devour those closest to us. This is a recurring theme in scripture. In his characteristically insightful manner, C.S. Lewis lays this bear in his Screwtape Letters in which a fictitious seasoned demon counsels his young protege on the art of spiritual warfare and how to attack true piety within God's people. In one letter he writes:
Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.
It is easy to show kindness to those we barely know, convincing ourselves that we are kind and benevolent, all the while critiquing, nit-picking, and mistreating those actual people whom God has placed in our lives. We pat ourselves on the back, finding fault in those close to us, after all "we love everyone, so clearly the problem can't be with us." Like John Lennon who lectured the world on love and peace, yet had a personal life littered with alienated and broken relationships, we have a malice that is wholly real and a benevolence that is largely imaginary.
When this reality is pointed out, you can do one of two things. You can deny it and find fault wholly in others—thus despising the Lord's discipline or you can humbly cry out for mercy, grace, and forgiveness. The promise of Psalm 50 is “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (v. 15) Guilt and shame are real—an ever-present companion in this life. The solution is never to deny them or place blame on others, especially when God offers forgiveness—full and free. Turn to him and know the comfort of his grace.