O LORD, who may abide in your tent?
Those who walk blamelessly…
in whose eyes the wicked are despised…
Those who do these things shall never be moved. – Psalm 15, excerpts (NRSV)
I wonder whether the psalmist intended the double entendre in that last line.
The psalm, a long list of what do to and what not to do, ends with a promise that whoever manages to live that way “shall never be moved.” Probably what the psalmist meant was that such a person would be able to stand firm in God’s presence no matter what.
When I read that line, I can’t help thinking of the sort of constant self-monitoring, discipline, and inflexibility it would take to be that ideal human, and I assume that such a person shall never be moved … by pity. Or by understanding. Or by generosity of spirit. I assume that if I hung out with them for long enough, I’d be despised in their eyes as a wicked sinner. I picture witch-burners, Dickensian governesses, Babette’s feasters before the feast.
I mean, of course personal virtue is worth cultivating. But moral perfection … yikes. The truth is there are no perfect people, only people who pretend they are. Perfection as a requirement for access to God not only makes for a lonely deity. It also creates a whole lot of pressure for us to ruthlessly suppress failings and foibles, first in ourselves and then projected on the people around us. From there, it’s all pinched lips, ruler smacks, and bonfires.
Grant me constant moral improvement, O God. Grant me too a sure knowledge of my failings and the grace with which you hold them. Let that grace never leave me unmoved by the struggles of others. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.