Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
I’ve always loved Psalm 1. The image of the trees planted by streams of water is such a vivid one. I have often used this psalm as a theme for restful meditation, envisioning my roots going deep and drawing up cool, refreshing water that brings strength and energy and vitality.
I can hear echoes of this psalm in many other passages of Scripture, especially Colossians 2:6-7: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
I love the idea of being one of “those”—the ones who don’t take advice from the wicked or walk the sinner’s path, the ones who “delight” in the law of the Lord. The first two-thirds of this psalm is so life-giving, so encouraging.
But the last third of this psalm gives me problems, especially lately. “The wicked are not so…” The psalm paints the picture of the righteous thriving, while the wicked wither and blow away. But it seems to me that the wicked aren’t going anywhere. Every day I hear news reports that seem to say that the wicked are thriving: another mass shooting, another nuclear weapons test, another celebrity accused of sexual assault, another corporation charged with fleecing the public, another rally of white supremacists. And in local news: another shooting, another armed robbery, another rape. Every day. Who prospers? Who withers up and blows away like chaff?
Sometimes it seems like the wicked are thriving and the righteous are withering, and then I just don’t know what to do with this psalm. Is it wishful thinking? Does the Lord really watch over the righteous… the innocent… the vulnerable? Will the way of the wicked perish? Or should we all run out and buy a gun?
I’ve discovered that once in awhile, it’s very helpful to unplug for a couple of days or even a couple of hours. It’s okay not to hear all the bad news all the time, not to know everything the “wicked” are up to. It’s good to back away from the 24-hour news stream and the Facebook hype and the Twitter wars for a bit. It gives me some time to get back to the shore of that stream…to put my roots down into the life-giving Word. To draw up some refreshment for my perspective.
Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s helpful to retreat back to the stream in order to regain a longer, broader view of things. Take some time to let the roots grow deeper, time to nourish the spirit for the work of bearing fruit for a hungry world, time to meditate on the Words that give meaning and purpose and direction. It makes it easier to remember whose garden this is in which we’ve been planted, and that the Gardener has everything well in hand.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore” (Rev. 22:1-3).