I’ve been reading through the Bible over the past few months, but during the past week of spring break, I took a little hiatus. Galavanting across Europe and changing hostels every night made it hard to find moments alone with the Lord, much less in a state where I was awake enough to pay attention to a text. With the phrase “your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness stretches to the skies” stuck in my head, I decided I’d spend the next week meditating on whatever psalm that was from. It would be a nice change of pace from my four chapters of Old Testament a day (currently in the middle of Numbers) and manageable, given the pace of our travels.
Turns out, that phrase is from Psalm 36.
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!
The first time I read through this psalm, curled up on my borrowed sheets in a Brussels hostel, I found myself skimming down to verse five. After all, what had initially drawn me to this chapter was the call back to the Lord’s unfailing love. As I continued reading, I was captivated by the imagery of the highest mountains and great deep; I found myself re-reading those verses as we literally drove up the mountains of the Alps. How great is His righteousness, a word here which is synonymous with justice – and how meager is my understanding of that!
Yet, I wasn’t five minutes into my exploration of the beauty of this chapter when I was overcome with a sense of conviction. It was gracious, but firm: Maddie, you haven’t even read the first five verses. My eyes had found the word “wicked” and then immediately skipped down to “love.” It wasn’t even a conscious avoidance of the verses; I had unknowingly and subconsciously bypassed them because that wasn’t what I was looking for. I was here to sit in the love of the Lord, not read about His condemnation for the wicked – what relevance did that have to me, enjoying the spoils of a spring break with my best friends? Also, I was reading for personal meditation and communion with Jesus, not exegetical bible study or teaching; skimming over context seemed to matter less.
Imagine my chagrin when scanning back up to the first five verses, I was met with this:
In their own eyes they flatter themselves
too much to detect or hate their sin
That describes me and the posture of my heart everyday. Not only that, it cut to the heart of why I skipped over those verses in the first place. My ability to flatter myself into thinking that I’m not capable of being a part of the “wicked” people this psalm is describing means that I’m, by definition, living into that. What’s more, I’m assuming that I can jump down to the Lord’s love and righteousness without acknowledging my own sin. Except that I can’t. It leaves me with a skimpy picture of just how deep and pervasive that love and justice is. It puts it on my terms, something that I can control and comprehend. It’s only when I realize just how deeply flawed I am, how quickly I turn from the Lord that I love, and how easily I delude myself into thinking that I have less need for forgiveness, grace, or redemption, that I better understand His steadfast love. It’s only then that I can truly look upon mountains in wonder, knowing His justice spans higher and wider. It’s a convicting reality, one that clearly I’m not always great at leaning into – but such is the nature of this journey.
What a beautiful psalm that gets at the truth of who we are and who He is (even if I was initially a little hesitant about acknowledging it).