The Book of Psalms was composed many centuries before Jesus’ time. The psalms are beautiful prayers that fit every condition and circumstance of life. They praise the Lord’s goodness and cry out in complaint and despair for the suffering we experience. The Book of Psalms, inspired as it is by God, gives us a powerful insight into human nature. The imagery is strong and so telling in its description. One such example is the opening verse of Psalm 36, entitled “Human Wickedness and Divine Providence.”
The opening line reads, “Sin directs the heart of the wicked; their eyes are closed to the fear of God.” It applies when we hear about or witness an individual’s deliberate act of evil against poor, innocent, and defenseless people. What I find so startling is how Psalm 36 seems to give life to the word sin as when it states that “Sin directs the heart of the wicked.”
Good vs. Evil
Psalm 36 states clearly that sin itself speaks to the sinner, but speaks from within the sinner’s heart. Keep in mind that it is good people who are tempted, not bad people. That’s why it is so important to understand that temptation itself is not a sin. After all, Jesus himself was tempted many times in his earthly life.
Temptation is an attraction to sin and, given our wounded human nature, it is very normal to experience attraction to sin. For example, no one I know likes cod liver oil. Most people gag at the thought of a spoonful. Few would be tempted to indulge in a taste. But to spread gossip, to lie out of pride, to eat a hot fudge sundae—now these are forms of temptation. Good people are tempted by the attractiveness of sin. But Psalm 36 says that truly bad people are not tempted. If Satan sought to tempt, he would not waste time on a true sinner. Dedicated sinners don’t need temptation.
That’s an important point to keep in mind. There are con artists who scan daily papers looking for obituaries to see if there are recent widows or widowers to swindle. When the Affordable Care Act went live online, fake sites were created within days to take money from applicants who did not know they were scams.
The Choices We Make
It is important to know the struggle with temptation that good people have only means that they are seeking to live good lives. That’s why they are tempted. Con artists, cheats, and investment robbers never have to worry about temptations because they have made the decision to rob others. They probably even sleep well at night. Good people experience guilt. Dedicated sinners do not.
But we also know that the evil decisions people make in life are the decisions they carry into eternity. So, in the end, they have chosen their eternity. They are not rejected by God. It is they who reject God.
Dear Friar Jeremy: Thank you for your meditation on St. Francis and the contrast between the royal births of history and the humble birth of Christ. I often think of Mary. What was she thinking during all of this? The angel told her that she was to give birth to the Son of God. Yet these circumstances couldn’t have been more difficult: the trip to Bethlehem, no room for them to stay, no family but her betrothed, Joseph, to help with the birth, and then the flight to Egypt. But through it all, she never doubted. She trusted God. What a wonderful inspiration Mary is to me! Laura
A: Dear Laura: I agree with you that Mary gives us an example of profound trust in God in all the events you mention. Just to focus on one: in the middle of the night, Joseph, in a dream, is told to immediately take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. I picture Mary on a donkey clinging to the baby Jesus in the dark of night starting for a foreign country. That’s trust. Friar Jeremy
Dear Friar Jeremy: Thank you again and again for sharing your thoughts on Francis and Bethlehem! Steve
A: Dear Steve: You are welcome! Friar Jeremy
Dear Friar Jeremy: I’m reminded of the stark difference when we witnessed the funeral of Princess Diana followed by that of Blessed Mother Teresa. I remember feeling and seeing the huge difference between wealth and humility. God was trying to show the world something. Mari
A: Dear Mari: You make a very valid point. St. Francis was disturbed that the poor had to suffer because those who had an abundance did not share. Pope Francis makes the same point. Friar Jeremy
Dear Friar Jeremy: What a wonderful gift to open my e-mail on Christmas morning and see your E-spiration on St. Francis and Christmas. It was so beautifully written, and the message was warm and thoughtful. Thank you! Tessa
A: Dear Tessa: It is a joy to write for people like you! Friar Jeremy