Psalm 36: Wickedness

I have a message from God in my heart
    concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:
There is no fear of God
    before their eyes.

In their own eyes they flatter themselves
    too much to detect or hate their sin.
The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;
    they fail to act wisely or do good.
Even on their beds they plot evil;
    they commit themselves to a sinful course
    and do not reject what is wrong.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.

Continue your love to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.
May the foot of the proud not come against me,
nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
See how the evildoers lie fallen—
thrown down, not able to rise!

– Psalm 36

The worst problem in the classroom is not the student who is talking when they shouldn’t be – they can usually be sorted out fairly easily. More troublesome is the student who deliberately lies about this ‘low level disruption,’ but again their double misbehaviour can be addressed. Much more of a difficulty is the student who does not deliberately lie but nonetheless insists that they were not talking in the first place even though their lips were moving and sound was coming out of their mouth. That student is much more of a worry as their behaviour and their duplicity has become so ingrained that they are actually no longer consciously aware of what they are doing.

A similar situation confronts us in the Psalm. The sinfulness of the wicked is so great that, a lot of the time, they are like errant students who don’t even recognise their wrongdoing, let alone hate it. This seems to be the Old Testament equivalent of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28–30). Most commentators believe that, rather than any specific grievous sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is simply the inability to recognise the difference between right and wrong, it is not a one-off event but the culmination of many choices.

In stark contrast to the scheming of the wicked is the extravagant goodness of God. God is loving, faithful (v. 5), righteous, just (v. 6).

While the wicked spend their time plotting evil both day and night (v. 4), God’s plan is for his creation to flourish (note the reference in v. 6 to beasts as well as humans). No doubt the wicked believed that they would profit from their scheming, probably in the shape of power or money or status but true treasure is enjoying God’s unfailing love rather than ill gotten gains. No doubt the wicked believed that if their plans succeeded they would be happy but true satisfaction and fulfilment comes from God. As another writer put it, ‘Fading is the worldling’s pleasure, All his boasted pomp and show; Solid joys and lasting treasure. None but Zion’s children know.’ (John Newton)

This Psalm, like the very first, presents us with two very different groups of people and two contrasting realities. Throughout Christian history, and still for many today, it can seem that those who have no regard for God or humanity or God’s creation, might win out which explains the closing prayer (vv. 10–12) which urges God to ensure that love and justice win. David had God’s word that God would triumph: we have the Word made flesh who took the worst that evil could do and triumphed gloriously over them, ‘Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered’ (Keith Getty).