“the ungodly are not so” Psalm 1:4
While it’s never particularly difficult for believers to remember that scripture is holy writ—“the word of God”—it’s often much tougher to remember that at some point in time thousands of years ago, someone—likely a man—was sitting over a scratchy parchment with a quill or sharp stick or whatever passed for a Bic, trying to get this little poem of his just right. I doubt that divine inspiration ever turned writers into dreamy mediums, but, of course, I may be wrong.
If I’m not, then the struggles common to all writers once certainly plagued the psalmist. Should I say “in his law,” or is “on his law” really more to the point? I’d like to know how much time he spent on such prepositions.
But if the poet/singer here was really just one of us, someone trying hard to get it right, then it’s fair to say that at some moments, maybe not as many as he’d like, the process just flat-out worked, the right words appeared as if by magic, ideas unpacked themselves, and he discovered exactly what it was he was thinking. Every writer—and most human beings—know the sheer glory of those shining music-of-the-spheres moments when all of us seem to be mediums.
I dare say one of those moments occurred right here in verse 4. I don’t know if King David wrestled with the agrarian metaphors that fill the psalm so far, or if he merely looked around and started, as all of us do, by writing what he knew. But once he’s covered the ground of the blessed, he moves into the dark side with a blunt verdict that seemingly could give a rip about lyrical beauty. This line came out as if the ink simply wouldn’t stay in the pen, accessorized with an exclamation point: “the ungodly are not so.”
On this point, David is not given to splitting hairs or parsing complex arguments. Let me try to describe what it means to be blessed, he says, and then he works hard at it. As for the wicked, he says, raising a finger, “nope.”
If you can feel the pulse of the man anywhere in this poem, I’m saying it’s right here at the pivotal moment where sits the heart of comparison/contrast, and you can see it in the thick line he scratched in beneath “the wicked are not so.”
I envy the confidence with which he wrote the line. The king’s world had inky blacks and virginal whites, and the line in the sand was a
where saints and sinners were as obvious as they are in vintage movie Westerns.
But then some of the greatest truths of scripture can dazzle us with their simplicity. When asked by a reporter to summarize what he’d spent a lifetime writing, Karl Barth, the brilliant 20th century theologian said, simply, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Blessedness is a by-product of a life deeply planted beside the water of life, this little psalm asserts. But it’s just not that way for those who aren’t. Period.