The Two Ways
1 Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked
or take the path that sinners tread
or sit in the seat of scoffers,
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
4 The wicked are not so
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous,
6 for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
I’ve decided to restart my scripture-reading practice by going to the Psalms. When I read the words “wicked” and “righteous”, it makes me think of how some people tend to try to lump others they have very strong moral disagreements into another bucket. The obvious example might be extreme right-wing religious fundamentalists who call homosexuals or pro-choice activists “wicked”. But it’s not just religious extremists who engage in “othering”–regardless of your point of view, many people seem to get a sense of satisfaction from grouping people who have entirely different opinions or values as “evil”, which in turn allows them to consider themselves “righteous”.
I don’t think it’s helpful to bucket people into “wicked” and “righteous” and I don’t know if that’s necessarily how Psalm 1 needs to be read or interpreted for our current time. The way I choose to read this psalm is by considering there is a way that you can live your life that results in The Good Life–behaviors, habits, practices that generally result in positive outcomes. Inversely, there are unhealthy behaviors, habits, and practices that tend to product negative outcomes and cause pain, suffering, and destruction of relationships.
Sometimes the beneficial vs harmful behaviors, habits, and practices can be interpreted through a moral lens, but not always. For better or for worse, this has become harder in a post-Christian era because we’ve become very sensitive to not appearing morally judgmental. Some behaviors that used to be considered morally bad are just neutral or even good. Society and culture changes, so in many circumstances, I think it’s a good thing for us to not judge others based on certain behaviors, but in some cases, maybe in God’s eyes, they are still offensive to him.
In the current time, I think it’s largely unhelpful for churches and Christians to prioritize identifying and defining morality in order to declare people or their behaviors “wicked” or “righteous”. Instead, I like the framing of calling people to a life where their “delight is in the law of the Lord” and on his law “they meditate day and night”; and as an outcome of humbling ourselves individually and communally to a relationship with God, we will “yield their fruit in its season” and prosper “in all that they do”. And when we choose not to do that, unfortunately, it’s likely that we submit ourselves to competing narratives of what it means to be happy or successful.
The mission of the church is to call humanity into a specific vision of The Good Life, one that is revealed through the Bible and through a life in communion with the living God.