The Lord looks out from heaven on all the human race to see if any act wisely, if any seek God. But all are unfaithful, altogether corrupt; no one does good, not even one (Psalm 14: 2-3 R.E.V.)
The above verse is taken from a lectionary reading for September. Historically, the book of Psalms was divided into several categories e.g. Psalms of approach, Psalms of enthronement, Royal psalms, Psalms of praise, Thanksgiving psalms, Creation psalms and Psalms of lament etc. The above verse comes from a psalm of lament a category of psalm in which writers often give voice to their dissatisfaction with current circumstances. May I suggest you read the whole psalm to get a sense of what the writer is expressing? The psalmist sees God peering out from heaven looking to see if anyone is acting wisely but draws a blank. Why should this be? The psalmist understands it to be the direct result of “the impious fool” saying in his heart that “there is no God” (v 1). The implication being that the unbeliever is incapable of acting wisely or of doing anything good. But what is the “good” and how might it be identified? Emmanuel Kant might respond that the “good” is a moral imperative written in the fabric of nature so that, being part of nature, we instinctively know what is “good” through our ability to reason. My guess is that it’s not as easy as that and that we’ll all have our own opinions of what counts as “good” according to our world-view. For example some people will regard the outcome of the EU referendum as good while others won’t see it that way at all. In Mark chapter 10 a rich man addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher” (Mk.10: 18). Jesus hits back saying why do you call me good? There is no-one good but God alone. Jesus then gives a list of commandments which Jews traditionally believed qualified them as “righteous” (i.e. keeping the Law). The man said he’d done all this and surely must merit eternal-life? Umm! Yes, he’d ticked all the boxes but there was one “no-go” area: “wealth.” Jesus knew this and told him how to resolve the problem, sadly it was a step too far for the man. The moral? Discipleship isn’t about ticking boxes or presenting our best-side. The “good” is being constant in doing the Lord’s work holding nothing back of intension, family, wealth, possessions, and so on. So, what’s the top priority in your life? Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate it. Following the six days of creation God looked at everything he had made and declared it: very “good” – including human-beings! (Gen. 1:51). Humans share God’s characteristics including his goodness even if it is a cracked, spoiled and tarnished version. Nevertheless, the good we seek to accomplish should flow directly from our total commitment to God and his ways – for God is the only reliable judge of what is “good” and it is to him that we will have to answer. So, the more we meditate on God in worship and personal devotions the better equipped we will be to do the good he has called us out of the world to do in his name. And so as summer gives way to autumn may we in this little corner of God’s creation make that a priority to a world passing blissfully by (without any “no-go areas” to drag us down and weaken us) so that when God looks out from heaven at us he will be very pleased and not sadly disappointed.