Psalm 53; Job 29; 1 Corinthians 5:9–6:8

I’m now writing form my new home in Madison, Wisconsin.

Psalm 53: We’ve encountered this pessimistic view of humanity previously in Psalm 14. Our author finds zero redeeming qualities in those who reject belief in God:
The scoundrel has said in his heart,
‘There is not God.’
They corrupt and do loathsome misdeeds.
There is none who does good.” (2)

In an echo of the story of Noah, God seeks out one good man, but unlike that story, there is not even one righteous person to be found:
The Lord from the heavens looked down
on the sons of humankind
to see, is there someone discerning,
someone seeking out God.” (3)

Alas, the case looks pretty hopeless as our poet repeats the grim findings that no good man can be found:
All are tainted,
one and all are befouled.
There is none who does good.
There is not even one.” (4)

As the psalmist reflects on this grim reality we come to realize that he is describing the apostates of Israel who have corrupted the entire society. He employs a simile of bread, which here has a completely opposite meaning of what we think of when Jesus says he is the Bread of Life:
Devourers of my people devoured them like bread.
They did not call on God.” (5b)

There is only one possible hope as he concludes on a despairing note:
O, may from Zion come Israel’s rescue
when God restores His people’s condition.
May Jacob exult.
May Israel rejoice.” (7)

Our poet could write these words today as we look around at the apparently hopeless condition of the world as it vainly seeks to find peace and justice by substituting small-g gods such as technology and individual liberty for God through Jesus Christ. Only God can resolve the desperate situation that this psalm so tersely and bleakly describes.

Job 29: Job continues to defend himself in the face of the accusations and wrong-headed diagnoses of his erstwhile “friends.” There is a bitter wistfulness as Job recalls his far happier times when he walked with God:
O that I were as in the months of old,
    as in the days when God watched over me;
when his lamp shone over my head,
    and by his light I walked through darkness;
when I was in my prime,
    when the friendship of God was upon my tent;” (2-4)

Back then he was surrounded by his loving children and he was respected by everyone:
the young men saw me and withdrew,
    and the aged rose up and stood;
the nobles refrained from talking,
    and laid their hands on their mouths;
the voices of princes were hushed,” (8-10)

Job believed he was the quintessential man of righteousness and justice, and in keeping with the constant refrain of the Old Testament, he was an advocate for the poor and the stranger:
I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;
    my justice was like a robe and a turban.
I was eyes to the blind,
    and feet to the lame.
I was a father to the needy,
    and I championed the cause of the stranger.” (14-16)

Job gets in a nice dig at his inquisitors by noting how in former times when he spoke there were no replies or accusations from know-it-alls such as those he is now enduring:
They listened to me, and waited,
    and kept silence for my counsel.
After I spoke they did not speak again,
    and my word dropped upon them like dew.” (21, 22)

The chapter concludes with Job fond remembrance of being the chief of men—a man of constant encouragement, respected by all:
I smiled on them when they had no confidence;
    and the light of my countenance they did not extinguish.
I chose their way, and sat as chief,
    and I lived like a king among his troops,
    like one who comforts mourners.” (25, 26)

The question hangs here: Is Job merely being nostalgic for the good old days? Was he as pure and kind as he portrays himself? Or are his accusers correct? For me, the challenge of this chapter is to ask myself if, as I grow older,  have I painted my past behavior in rosier terms than what my actions really were? This chapter forces us to think back and realize that nostalgia paints a happier picture: we remember the good that we did while we tend to forget the many occasions when we sinned.

1 Corinthians 5:9–6:8: Paul refers to the first letter he wrote to the Corinthians, which is lost: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons.” (9) He makes it clear that he is not referring to the “the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters,” (10) but to sexual immorality and other sins right there in the church at Corinth: “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber.” (11)

Goodness knows we’ve seen plenty of sinning in our own time among those that profess to be Christians, especially erstwhile evangelical leaders and TV personalities. But I also remember a case in the church I grew up in where the choir leader had an affair with a member of the choir.  So, the problem is longstanding and continues simply because we are all sinners.

Paul advises those in the church to “Drive out the wicked person from among you.” (13) There are modern churches where this is still done. But I think there’s a real dilemma here. Do we show grace on the sinner or drive them out for fear of further corrupting the body? Paul is clear about where he stands, but I’m not comfortable with that stance. I’d rather err on the side of repentance and grace.

Like our modern age here in America, Corinth is a litigious society and lawsuits abound. People in the Corinthian church are taking cases to civil court and this greatly distresses Paul, who believes grievances should be resolved within the church: “When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints?” (6:1) In fact, he is rather incredulous that resolution cannot be achieved among Christians: “I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer—and before unbelievers at that?” (6:5) In other words, Paul pleads, resolve your disputes among yourselves.

I presume these verses became the inspiration for the development of Canon Law and a means of dispute resolution within the Catholic church. However, we also know that grievous sins such as the scandals of abuse by priests were not resolved within the church and were hidden from pubic view. I think Paul’s advice is generally sound here, but there will always be exceptions where the outside world must intervene.

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