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Psalm 36

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 to love 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!

My kids don’t travel well. It’s not that they get sick, it’s not that they can’t sleep in the car. They just don’t like long car trips. And for a 5-year-old boy “long” is a relative term. When he was really young, 5 minutes in he would say, “Are we there yet?” 20 minutes in he would be screaming, “It’s SOOO long – this is taking forever!”

And then we would drive to visit grandpa and grandma an hour and half away… torture. 

But eventually that became normal. And then we would drive 3 hours to the cottage – a new level of torture.

But that too eventually expanded to be normal.

And then our family moved across the country so I could pastor at a new church. That drive was 56 hours (yes, we did detours and drove around in different cities, but the van we drove had a run time clock and we zeroed it at the beginning of the trip). 56 hours over a week and half of traveling – that was long not just for my kids, but for me and Rachel as well.

But something happened to the kids during that trip: as the horizons expanded before us, the horizons of their minds also expanded at the size of the world we live in. When we are small our worlds are small: mom, dad, siblings, and maybe grandparents, and a few others. The world isn’t much bigger than your house and the infant car seat. As you get a little older, the world gets a little bigger. It’s one thing to see a map of Canada, its another to drive 5000kms and see it all.

What once was impossible to comprehend begins to expand and stretch out before our eyes.

That sense of contrast of impossibilities and the magnitude of what lies before you begins to grasp at the contrasts that David is making in Psalm 36. This Song of Prayer is a sort of prophetic oracle contrasting those for whom there is “no fear of God before their eyes” – not, in the first place, with “those who know you [Lord],” but with the Lord himself; his love, righteousness, and justice. 

On the one hand you have those who “in their own eyes flatter themselves” – they can’t see past their own reflections. Sin is vanity and all we see is our self-absorbed realities. Not unlike the toddler whose world is small and contains only them, when something happens that takes too long or requires us to look beyond our immediate surroundings it is a form of personalized torture.

These self-absorbed eyes are contrasted with the Lord, whose love “reaches to the mountains;” whose “faithfulness [reaches] to the skies;” whose “justice is like the great deep.” The language forces our imaginations bigger, deeper and wider, as we begin to fathom the depths of who God is.

It’s one thing to look out at the world and see only your reflection. It is another to experience the things of the Lord. God’s love is like a feast (vs. 8) for the weary (vs. 7). God’s love is a draught (vs. 8) for the depressed. “With you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

As only driving across the country can help you comprehend the vastness of the creation, comprehending the things of God (viz, putting the fear of God before our eyes) opens us up to the majesty not only of who he is, but who we are in him. This point is made most beautifully by John Calvin in the opening paragraphs of his Institutes of the Christian Religion wherein which he says “no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts toward the God in whom he lives and moves… [and] it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.”[1]

Looking on the face of God helps us to look past our own faces – and thus to see them as they truly are for the first time. In the person of Jesus, the Lord who David calls our hearts to truly does get a face. Jesus took on flesh, becoming like us, so that we might be brought to God. And in bringing us back to God, Jesus shows us what it truly means to be fully human fully alive in the purposes of God and for his glory. Jesus endures torture so that we might have the blessings of a “feast on the abundance of your house.” 

In the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus we see the love of God made real, the faithfulness of God made known, the righteousness of God given hands and feet, and the justice of God given a voice to the world. In Jesus, love and justice meet. And when we finally see him, we can truly see ourselves.

Holy God, give me the eyes of faith to see beyond my present circumstances and the mirror of my self-absorption. Help me to see Jesus, to know your mercy and love, and to – in you – find myself. May your love be made ever more real in my life and the lives of those around me as we turn our eyes towards you.  In Jesus’ holy name, Amen! 


[1] Calvin, Instistutes, I.I.i&ii.