Psalm 36 – In You, O God, Is the Fountain of Life
Psalm 36 speaks of depths—the depths of sin in the human heart, and the depths of God’s mercy which reaches from the heavens to the “great deep” of the ocean. The Psalmist opens with haunting words about the overwhelming power which words may exert in our lives. Words that flatter may be discovered to have arisen from evil intentions (v. 3). The Letter of James speaks of the tongue as the instrument of such destructive words: “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell [… ] No one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so” (Jas 3:5b-10). The Psalmist asserts the direct connection between what comes forth from the tongue and what follows in our deeds: the one who “plots iniquity” is the very one who “sets his foot” on the way of wickedness, accepting all that leads to evil (v. 5). In other words, what comes out of the mouth comes forth from the heart; and what comes from the heart is borne out in our deeds. In contrast to this pattern of evil is the loving mercy of God that spans the cosmos from top to bottom. The use of two images here to describe divine justice, the lofty mountain and the great depth of the sea, is a poetic device called a merism: it brings together two opposed extremes to express the idea of fullness, completeness, the abundant extent of the matter thus described. In other words, the scope of divine justice for all God’s people and creatures is from the heights to the depths (v. 7). Reflection on this imagery opens a way into the mystery of God’s limitless love and care. We live in a world touched both by God’s goodness and by the power of evil. Daily we face decisions that can preserve our lives in the benevolence of God’s providence or imprison us under the tyranny of evil; it remains our choice which path we will follow.
1 For the Choirmaster. Of David, the servant of the Lord.
2 Transgréssion spéaks to the sínner
in the dépths of his héart.
There ís no féar of Gód
befóre his éyes.
3 In his own éyes, he flátters himsélf,
not to sée and detést his own guílt.
4 The wórds of his móuth are míschief and decéit.
He has céased to be prúdent and do góod.
5 In béd he plóts iníquity.
He sets his fóot on évery wicked wáy;
no évil does hé rejéct.
6 Your mércy, Lord, réaches to héaven,
your trúth to the clóuds.
7 Your jústice is líke God’s móuntains;
like the great déep, your jústice.
Both man and béast you sáve, O Lórd.
8 How précious is your mércy, O Gód!
The chíldren of mén seek shélter
in the shádow óf your wíngs.
9 They féast on the ríches of your hóuse;
you give them drínk from the stréam of your delíght.
10 For with yóu is the fóuntain of lífe,
and ín your líght we see líght.
11 Maintain your mércy for thóse who knów you,
your saving jústice to úpright héarts.
12 Let the fóot of the próud not tréad on me
nor the hánd of the wícked drive me óut.
13 Thére have the évildoers fállen;
flung dówn, unáble to ríse!
Prayer for Psalm 36
Just and merciful God, whose faithful love reaches to the heavens, whose truth touches the clouds, sustain in your righteousness all who know you and call upon your Name. Let the power of sin not hold sway in our lives, but rather let your loving kindness show us the way to life and light in that kingdom where you live forever and ever. Amen.