Beginnings and ends. That’s our context. Stories, lives, meetings, games, relationships. Whatever. They have a start and they have an ending. But the action, the living takes place in between. That doesn’t mean the endpoints are insignificant. The terminals actually frame the living and the action. How, why, when and where something begins is thus of immense importance. Including the book of the psalms.
Call it the songbook, the worship binder of ancient Israel. The psalter is a group of 150 poetic hymns or chants that were and are utilized in the public worship of God’s people. They masterfully bring together our brokenness, need, joys, hopes, trials and losses, and lay them in faith before the God of heaven and earth. They capture both our humanity and God’s character. They point us to God in all of life and show us a picture of lived faith.
So how do the psalms begin? With Psalm 1, of course. LOL.
Okay, maybe that isn’t funny, but it does matter which psalm kicks off the whole book – and this initial psalm points us toward where the good life is to be found: the life that is blessed, the life that is fruitful, the life that stands upright in the judgment and endures from this age into the endless ages of eternity. Psalm 1 also informs us that there are two paths or “ways” of living out our days: the way of the wicked, and the way of the righteous. The rest of the psalms teach us what those two ways look like; how they interact with each other, with God, and with those who walk those paths; and what fruit each way bears.
But the practical wisdom of this psalm lies in what might be called the laws of human nature. Similar to gravity. Think of it as relational – or better – spiritual gravity.
With gravity, its attractive power is relative to the mass of something (how substantial it is) and the proximity of that something (how close or near it is). The more substantial something is, the more gravity it exerts. So, for instance, parents are perhaps the most substantial relationships in a person’s formative years of life, and they therefore exert the greatest pull or influence on a person’s direction or trajectory of life.
The other factor with gravity has to do with proximity, or nearness. The closer something is, the more gravitational pull it exerts. With human nature, we might say that those factors that are most frequently and most powerfully in our context, in our day-to-day living, will influence us the most. Those things that are most “in our faces” move us around, consume our attention, influence our decisions. Poverty in your family and in your entire community will impact you far more than someone else’s poverty on the other side of the globe.
Notice how these things work in Psalm 1. In effect, the psalm begins by declaring that the blessed person avoids the gravitational pull of that which is contrary to God. The blessed person knows what God’s way looks like because he or she meditates on God’s law day and night. The person who is blessed abides with, inhabits, and rests in what God has spoken to us. God’s Word is the closest (most intimate) and most substantial “thing” in the life of the blessed.
In contrast, the psalmist shows us clearly the gravitational force of wickedness on the wicked. It begins with listening to the counsel – the words – not of God, but of the wicked. The downward and inward pull of gravity begins to be felt. Eventually the wicked doesn’t just walk in the counsel of others that are walking contrary to God’s way. Gravity sets in and the person stops walking and stands, abides, in the way of sinners. This becomes the frequented way of life. Habituated, familiar. And then the gravitational pull brings the person to sitting with the scoffers, with those who are not only not walking in God’s way but are actively mocking God’s way. The wicked now is seated, sit-uated, and resting their bones in the way that leads not to God. Their chosen (or at least not resisted) center of gravity has had its effect.
Word to the wise from Psalm 1: choose carefully your gravitational forces: God’s word, or the words of the wicked. It’s all downhill from there…. And the bottom of the respective hills will land you in very different places.