Thursday, December 15, 2005

Psalm 1: The Two Ways

From time to time I’ll be tiptoeing through the Psalter to offer little commentaries or reflections. We pray the psalms here in the monastery several times every day, so they gradually form our mind-sets and even our vocabulary. I’ll start today at the very beginning—a very good place to start!

Psalm 1 is a mini-overture for the whole Psalter. It’s only six verses long, but covers several themes that constantly recur in this book of the Bible (and others as well): the blessedness of the just and faithful one, delight in the law of the Lord, the rewards for righteousness and the judgment of wickedness. This psalm is part of a long tradition in both the Old and New Testaments, and in later spiritual literature as well: that of the “two ways.”

There is a way of goodness and a way of evil, a way of blessing and a way of curse, a way of fidelity and a way of infidelity, a way of obedience and a way of rebellion, a way of salvation and way of damnation, the narrow gate and the wide gate, the tree that bears good fruit and the one that bears rotten fruit, the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ” and the “law of sin and death.” These themes frequently occur in Scripture, and they are at the heart of divine revelation, insofar as human living is concerned. The two ways manifest the reality of human freedom and also the consequences of our free acts. Certain choices lead to happiness, virtue, peace, and salvation, and other choices lead to misery, debauchery, turmoil, and ultimately the despair that foreshadows perdition.

The psalm expresses the two ways thus: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…but his delight is in the law of the Lord.” Then the ways of the righteous and the wicked are compared: the righteous “is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in season…” Now the other way: “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment…”

The conclusion about the two ways? “The Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” Yet it seems that today, in the interest of moral relativism, dissent from Church teaching, or just plain selfish indolence, quite a few people would like to walk partly in one way and partly in another. But the logic of the “two ways” does not permit that. You can’t be partly saved and partly damned, partly blessed and partly cursed. True, it is very often the case that for a time one can be partly good and partly bad, but in the end the way you choose will secure you wholly in Heaven or wholly in Hell. “He who is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30), said the Lord, so you can’t hope to be saved by coasting or wavering or withholding commitment. Not to decide clearly for Christ is to decide against Him.

St Paul makes the point clear as well: “For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? …What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2Cor. 6:14-16). This is part of his own “two ways” teaching. (The picture above is not intended to suggest fellowship between the two ways, only that there’s a way that leads to the flames and a way that doesn’t.)

Pick up the Psalter, then, and pray and learn more about the way of righteousness and the way of wickedness. Probably most of us who believe in Christ are not truly wicked, but every departure from the way of the righteous will ultimately (if not sooner) have to be dealt with, and the painful purging of our sins must precede our entrance into the heavenly kingdom. Be, then, 100% with Christ. I can’t imagine anything worse than being against Him.