Psalm 15: Who Can Hang with God?
I really love the subtlety of British actor Nathaniel Parker's King David in the Italian-produced Bible Collection movies. I think Parker captures the qualities that endeared David to God: Guileless and passionate faith, devotion, bravery, loyalty, integrity, humility, a servant's heart, love, wisdom...the list goes on. Parker also credibly captures how an outstandingly upright guy can go totally off the rails and be clueless about it, depicting the Bathsheba debacle with insight and relatability. It makes Psalm 15 all the more powerfully revealing, instructive, and prophetically comforting, really. In it, David begins by asking who can "dwell" or "abide" with God. This isn't merely having coffee. This is abiding in God 24/7. Indeed, who can?
What follows is Psalm 15's handy list of virtues that pre-qualifies those who can hang with God on an ongoing basis. Strictly speaking, if this were a test, and I held myself to God's standard of perfect "righteousness," I'd fail. Most days, not an an F, but definitely a solid D, possibly a C. On some rare great days (or days when I'm deluded about my superiority), I might get an A and B, for 47 minutes maybe. See how you do...
___The unfailingly morally virtuous, who keep God's law perfectly.
___Whose heart is 100% true. (v.2)
___Who never speaks ill of others.
___Never does wrong to another. (v.3)
___Doesn't hold any grudges.
___Who hates despicable people, but
___honors God-fearing folks. (v.4)
___Who keeps the faith even when it hurts.
___and remains unwavering.
___Doesn't lend money at interest.
___Doesn't do wrong for gain. (v.5)
Remember: God's standard of perfection. Unfailing true-heartedness alone would condemn me to the fiery pit, even as Jeremiah later asserts that "the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" What a dilemma!
Powerless to change my heart.
An Italian proverb says,
Al cuore non si commanda. (The heart can't be ruled.)
This is usually used in relation to falling in love (as in, you can't help who you love), but the original intent is broader. We just cannot change, control, or fix our hearts.
I've lived this. Have you? I've wanted so badly not only to do right, but for my heart to be right, knowing full well what that is, and yet it eluding me. I've wanted not to feel a certain way about someone--good or bad--but couldn't stop it.
Over the years, I've gotten better at acting right even when my heart is messed up, but this passage doesn't applaud good intentions. Moreover, sometimes, acting my way into right thinking simply doesn't work. Or it morphs into hypocrisy because the underlying motive for the disconnect is sullied.
The omniscient LORD God foreknew David's failures, well before he annointed him King or named him a man after His own heart. In fact, God knew it from time immemorial, yet it didn't preclude God's conclusions about his man's role. To me, this is both a great comfort and terrifying.
A comfort, because God knows our failings and loves and employs us anyway. Terrifying first, because David's relationship with God didn't prevent him from some epic moral failures, undertaken with stunning blindness. Secondly, despite David's very privileged position with God, he nonetheless suffered some devastating consequences including the death of his illegitimate son, along with crushing moral ripple effects that reverberated through his whole family for a long time.
In fact, as David's personal prophet Nathan put it when He called David out, it was David's position of favor with God that held him to a higher standard (2 Samuel 12).