Wise Counsel For 2020: Psalm 1

Jan 4th, 2020 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

Wisdom is a curious term, often difficult to define.  The Bible presents wisdom as a practical outworking of profound truths centered in God’s Word.  Several times it affirms that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (e.g., Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7).  The wisdom literature of the Old Testament further adds terms such as prudence, discernment, understanding, and discretion to characteristics of wisdom.  As we begin 2020, perhaps it is beneficial to refresh our understanding of what a life of wisdom looks like.

 

In an article in the Wall Street Journal by psychoanalyst Erica Komisar, the need for wisdom, discernment and prudence in parenting is cogently demonstrated.  She writes, as a therapist, “I’m often asked to explain why depression and anxiety are so common among children and adolescents.  One of the most important explanations—and perhaps the most neglected—is declining interest in religion.  This cultural shift already has proved disastrous from millions of vulnerable young people.”  She makes the following observations:

  • Children or teens who reported attending a religious service at least once per week scored higher on psychological well-being measurements and had lower risks of mental illness.
  • “Weekly attendance was associated with higher rates of volunteerism, a sense of mission, forgiveness, and lower probabilities of drug use and early sexual initiation. Pity then that the US has seen a 20% decrease in attendance at formal religious services in the past 20 years, according to a Gallup report earlier this year.  In 2018 the American Family Survey showed that nearly half of adults under 30 do not identify with any religions.”
  • Nihilism is fertilizer for anxiety and depression. “The belief in God—in a protective and guiding figure to rely on when times are tough—is one of the best kinds of support for kids in an increasingly pessimistic world.  That’s only one reason, from a purely mental-health perspective, to pass down a faith tradition.”
  • Perhaps most telling: “I am often asked by parents, ‘How do I talk to my child about death if I don’t believe in God or heaven?’ My answer is always the same: ‘Lie.’  The idea that you simply die and turn to dust may work for some adults, but it doesn’t help children.  Belief in heaven helps them grapple with this tremendous and incomprehensible loss.”
  • “In an individualistic, narcissistic and lonely society, religion provides children a rare opportunity for natural community . . . Today the US is a competitive, scary and stressful place that idealizes perfectionism, materialism, selfishness and virtual rather than real human connection. Religion is the best bulwark against that kind of society.  Spiritual belief and practice reinforce collective kindness, empathy, gratitude and real connection . . . [a] spiritual or religious center will benefit [children] their entire lives.”

 

Komisar neglects to be specific about the characteristics and qualities of God nor does she affirm the truth that there is a God, who has revealed Himself.  We can know absolutely that truth and claim by faith all of the promises He has revealed.  Genuine, biblical Christianity is not a mere crutch; it is truth that can be mined and applied, which leads to a transformed life.  But one needs to accept it as truth and embrace it as truth.  That is the path of wisdom.  Consider the counsel of Psalm 1.

 

This Psalm serves as the gatekeeper for the entire Psalter.  It introduces the profound concept that humanity has only Two Paths in Life, not three but two:  The path of the righteous or the path of the wicked.  You must choose.

 

  • THE PATH OF THE RIGHTEOUS

 

WHAT THE PATH IS NOT, V. 1:  A trilogy of three expressions are described as “blessed” (used 26 times in the Psalter), which means to be right with God; enjoying His peace, presence and joy.  This is the true happiness expounded upon by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. To follow this path is the result of a sober choice.  It draws attention to the realms of thinking, behaving and belonging, so central to the human condition.  This path rejects a well-defined conformity with the world—accepting its advice, being party to its ways and adopting its most fatal attitudes, that of scoffing.  It represents an intentional, decisive departure from God.

 

WHAT THE PATH IS, V. 2:  This path is not influenced by the unrighteous but by meditation on the Word of God.  The mind is the first bastion to defend; the first bastion on the path of righteousness.  It is the key to the whole person; what shapes a person’s thinking shapes that person.   Therefore, this is the path of delight in the God’s law—His Word.  This term is critical for it demonstrates that the Word is not the legalist’s handbook but is food—for nourishment, for enjoyment, for good, for purpose and meaning in life.  It is like a wonderful, sumptuous meal that satisfies completely.

 

God’s Word also stands opposed to the “counsel of the wicked,” for it directs, instructs and results in meditation, reflection, processing of what God has said.  It is the secret to achieving anything worthwhile.

 

WHAT THE PATH PRODUCES, V. 3:  Those who choose this path will find prosperity.  Using the image of a fruitful tree, the psalmist declares that the righteous prosper. What does this mean?  Is this prosperity, name-it-and-claim-it theology?  The point is that if a person is controlled by God and meditates on His Word, the resulting actions will be godly and these God-controlled activities will receive His blessing (i.e., result in their divine fulfillment).   This life will be characterized by what pleases God, what brings His blessing.

 

  • THE PATH OF THE WICKED

 

WHAT THE PATH IS, V. 4:  It is “wicked.”  This Hebrew term connotes gross evil, described as one not in a covenant relationship with God.  The wicked live according to their passions; they are ungodly.  They may do good deeds, but they are without eternal merit when it comes to God.  This path is like “chaff.”  It is the ultimate in what is rootless, weightless and useless.  The figure is obviously of winnowing, in which the threshed corn is tossed up and the fragments of straw blow away, leaving behind what is good grain.  Arguably, this is in direct contrast to the righteous, who are fruitful, valuable, and righteous.

 

WHAT THE PATH PRODUCES, V. 5-6:  “Therefore,” the natural consequence of the choice of the wicked is judgment.   Before the Judge, they will not have a leg to stand on!  These are the two aspects of judgment—collapse and expulsion, the natural results of choosing wickedness.  (See Isaiah 2:10-21).  God will separate the righteous from the unrighteous, a theme declared throughout Scripture.  The righteous are related by covenant with God, live by his Word, and produce things of eternal value.  God separates the two as He does wheat and tares.

 

The basis for this judgment is God’s knowledge.   Salvation is being “known” by the Lord—see Matthew 7:23—which communicates intimacy, care and ownership.  The way or path of the wicked involves the entire manner of life, what directs it and what it yields.  Those who are wicked produce worthless lives that will not endure.

 

So, the two paths part forever.

 

As we begin 2020, let’s covenant together to choose the path of the righteous, the path of wisdom.  Komisar documents the horrific consequences in the lives of children of parents who choose the path of the wicked.  If one is intellectually honest, all around us we see the tragedy of the wicked life.  It is a broken, purposeless, heartbreaking life.  But, Jesus offers an alternative—an abundant life filled with purpose and meaning; a life that is characterized by eternal significance; a life that claims by faith the promises of God.  It is a life of hope in a very dark world.  There are only two paths: Be careful which one you choose for 2020.

 

See Erica Komisar in the Wall Street Journal (6 December 2019).

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