by Mark D. Roberts
Laity Lodge Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence
God’s Perspective on Human Goodness
God looks down from heaven
on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
not a single one!
If you have a sense of déjà vu when reading Psalm 53, it’s because this psalm is virtually identical to Psalm 14. Those who collected the psalms must have believed that the message contained in these ancient poems was so important that it was worth repeating, almost verbatim.
Psalm 53 begins by criticizing fools who deny God’s relevance to their lives and therefore commit all measure of evil. From our perspective, it would be easy to begin to think of people we know who fit this mold, people other than ourselves, of course. But then we get to verses 2 and 3. Here, God looks down upon all people and sees all of us to be lacking in goodness. The divine conclusion: “No one does good, not a single one” (53:3). With hyperbolic rhetoric and poetic intensity, the psalmist underscores the truth that all of us, to one extent or another, share in the folly of those who reject God and do what’s wrong. Thus we mustn’t let the fact that some “fools” are more foolish than we are become an excuse for us to ignore our own failure to live according to God’s wisdom.
In Romans 3, the Apostle Paul quotes this passage from Psalm 53 (or 14, see Rom. 3:10-12). He concludes that all people have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (3:23). This bad news of human folly sets up the good news of the Gospel: “Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins” (3:24). Thus we must not boast of our right-standing with God, since it’s nothing that we have earned. Rather, we humbly and gratefully receive God’s grace and seek to share it with those who are still caught in their folly.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Do you ever look upon others in their folly as a way of building yourself up? How might Psalm 53 alter your perspective and practice?
PRAYER: O Lord, you know how easy it is for me to look upon the folly and evil of others in order to build myself up. I can think, “At least I’m better than them!” But this psalm reminds me of my own folly, even in thinking that somehow I am categorically better than others. Today I’m reminded of the fact that all have sinned, including me. Left to my own devices, there is no way I can cleanse myself of sin or be righteous in your sight.
Yet you have done what I cannot do. Through Christ, you have declared that I am righteous. You have drawn me into a right relationship with you, so that I might live in a new way, set free from folly. Help me, dear Lord, to live each day for you and by your power. Though I will continue to sin, may sin’s hold on my life diminish. May I flourish in goodness because of my relationship with you.
All praise be to you, gracious God, because, having seen the evil of humankind, you reach out in love to save us . . . including me! Amen.
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I found in reading Mustang’s wonderful story about the natural bravery and selflessness of children, drove this devotional home for me. You can read the short Sunday Reflection here on Social Sense – Giving When It Counts.