The currently prevailing view of who we are, shapes our thinking, it influences (for ill) our actions and ultimately it takes us to a place of worthlessness and hopelessness. It seems that the advice this view advocates is that we ought to ‘be true to ourselves’ or ‘become who we really are’ –or to ‘find ourselves’ and to become that person, free of the claustrophobia or responsibility and restraint. This advice is based on the view that there is no ultimate purpose or meaning in life: we are the products of the play of chance on random processes, as a consequence there can thus be no morality in an absolute sense. As R Dawkins put it, The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: ‘For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.’ DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.
The bible makes it clear that God made mankind – we have an origin that is founded on intelligence and design. He made us in his image – this is a remarkable thing! But we rebelled and we became corrupted. How can we understand how these two important factors, (design and rebellion) play out in our lives?
George Box (a statistical modeller) rather famously (at least in some circles) said, “all models are wrong, but some are useful.” We’ve become somewhat familiar with the use (and perhaps misuse) of statistical epidemiological models as we live through the Covid 19 pandemic. With Geroge Box’s caveat, we can construct a model of how the bible sees humanity, and it looks something like this: We have self , we have a sin nature that we inherited from Adam after his rebellion (or fall), and we have conscience. We are also made in the image of God, but have this sin nature within us. Our culture in the UK has been (whether atheists like it or not) influenced by Christian beliefs of our forefathers, there is a Christian strand to our collective thinking albeit a fast diminishing one. This influence creates good conditions for the promotion and culturing of our conscience and a strong conscience acts as a brake on our sinful nature. It seems to me that this explains why some people do mostly good things. A good parent, will seek to teach and strengthen a child’s conscience. Sadly, in many schools, we now teach the new atheistic philosophy which states that there is no good, no bad, no right, no wrong and that we simply must be free to express who we are. This thinking diminishes the conscience and creates the circumstances for the sinful nature to take hold.
The bible teaches us that all are affected by the sin nature and that this fractures our relationship with God. After Adman’s sin, he no longer wanted to spend time with God. Since God is love, he wants to restore our relationship with him. Through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, the ransom price that sin demands has been paid and we have the possibility of becoming new people. To continue to use the model, we have three new elements: a restored relationship with God, a new nature, and the power of the Holy Spirit within us. The old nature is still there – we now have a choice, will we walk in the Spirit – ordering our lives according to his character or will we (as the apostle Paul has it) ‘walk according to the flesh (the old nature).’ The result is either the fruit of the Spirit or a long list of sins.
In Psalm 36, it seems to me that David describes people who have not followed after God, people who have completely suppressed their conscience. There are degrees of ‘badness.It seems that we are beginning to see this phenomenon in our society. Interestingly the apostle Paul spoke of this in his letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 3): 3 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. And he goes on to say in verse 13, evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
David describes people who have totally embraced the thinking of our day in 5 ways. First, they have no regard or fear of God. We see this today; belief and respect for God is now broadly considered to be in the same category as belief in fairies and Father Christmas. Second, ‘2 In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.’ Since there is no right or wrong, since the conscience is to be put to one side, sin is no longer sin, and can no longer be detected. ‘Be who you are’ they say – with disastrous consequences for society and mental health. Third, ‘the words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful.’ Truth is no longer valued. Anyone who disagrees with the view of such people is disbarred from discussion in the public square. Fourth, they fail to act wisely or do good. And finally, they commit themselves to a sinful course. This is a huge warning to us. On Thursdays we are studying the book of Judges, Israel lived amongst the wicked Canaanite people, rather than becoming a light against the darkness of these wicked people, they adopted Canaanite practices and sank into violence and immorality. We must guard against this mistake. How can we do this? By setting our minds deliberately on God’s person and character.
David speaks of the vastness of God’s wonderful character. We are somewhat influenced by the depiction of God as an old man, standing on a cloud plating a harp! We must shake this idea from our minds and concentrate on who God really is. David speaks in a beautiful poetic way of God’s character:
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.
Notice the four dimensions of God’s person: he is love, he is faithful, he is righteous, and he is just. These features are present in vast measure – reaching to the heavens, to the skies, to the tip of the highest mountain and to the unfathomable depths of the ocean!
How much time have you spent this week considering who God is and how great is his love, righteousness, faithfulness and justice? I’m sorry to say that you will not find much mention of this in the songs of our day, in the BBC or Netflix or in our newspapers. That’s why it’s good that we take an hour on Sundays to think about these things, and wouldn’t it do us good to spend some private times too thinking about these things too?
In the Pharmaceutical industry, much is talked about ‘outcome measures. If a new drug is to do patients any good, an objective measurement needs to be made of the condition of the patient before any treatment begins: the response of the treatment in terms of the outcome measure can then be made. David ends the Psalm by contrasting the outcomes of a life lived feeding the sinful nature with a life lived walking in God’s righteous ways. The outcome measure for ‘evil doers’ is a fall, they are thrown down and can do nothing to rescue themselves, they are ‘not able to rise.’ Perhaps David was thinking about the hopeless situation that comes from becoming a slave to the old sinful nature.
In contrast, David four distinct beneficial outcomes for those who follow after God. There is refuge. David says, ‘people take refuge in the shadow of your wings.’ What a lovely picture of God’s loving protection. There is feasting on God’s abundance and drinking from his river of delights! And finally, those who trust on God find that in him is a life-giving fountain. These outcome benefits are only to be found by walking with the true God of the universe – what a privilege we have!
An old hymn we used to sing is ‘there is joy in serving Jesus,’ one of the verses says:
There is joy in serving Jesus,
joy amid the darkest night.
For I’ve learned the wondrous secret
and I’m walking in the light.
Let’s indeed walk in the light and in doing so we will surely experience the joy and peace of fellowship with the living God.