Psalm 36

This is the 300th blog which I have written for this website. It falls on a day when we read one of the finest of the psalms at Morning Prayer: Psalm 36.  After other well-crafted verses, it contains the memorable line:

“For with you is the well of life and in your light shall we see light.”

Sixteen words that hold the essence of our inner commitment to, and understanding of, our relationship with God and the world.  

The whole psalm is an exercise in observation, cast in highly descriptive language. It is in two parts.  The first four verses comprise an analysis of failure and wrongdoing;  forming amongst the most negative of beginnings:

“Sin whispers to the wicked, in the depths of their heart […]”  

It is a picture full of intimate concern and ultimate truth.  We just know how it happens, and the psalmist reads our minds, plumbs our very thoughts, and unravels our weaknesses.  That whispering voice that breathes in secret what would be condemned in the open.  But there, in the depths, takes place the quiet turning of our weak wills to the path of wrong.  It is spun out in these four verses with flattery and mischief identified as partners of the whispering voice of temptation to sin.

The remainder of the psalm, at least all but the last two verses, which again turn to the negative, brings us picture upon picture of the contrasting nature of God’s action and humanity’s mighty failures:  

The Love of God reaches from the heavens; the Lord’s righteousness is like the mountains; and justice like unfathomable depths.  We exist, even in our frailty, under the shadow cast by the wings of the Almighty.  These are powerful images that lay waste the pathetic schemes of the whispered wickedness of human craving.  In the end we may only be satisfied with the spiritual sustenance of the Lord, as the writer turns to God in pleading, but confident, voice, with the words,

“For with you is the well of life and in your light shall we see light.”

Let us throw in one more image; one more picture to draw to ourselves the layers of our striving for what is good and wholesome and right:

We hold our life as a kind of jigsaw puzzle piece.  It sits amongst the scattered pieces and may be tried here and there to see its fit; and for some it slips easily to where it belongs; for others, the colours may match here and there; the shape may fit elsewhere; we turn it one way, then turn it another; we may even try it more than once in the same place, where it seems to go, but just doesn’t.  Only in seeing the pattern of all things in Christ, can we find our true place within it; only when we find that well of life, will light dawn, and in that divine light our eyes are constant and true, and with the writer of this psalm, we find that loving-kindness has opened for us the dwelling-place we seek.

John Mann