Psalm 36: Sin Speaks to the Sinner

Man looking sad

Sin directs the heart of the wicked man;
his eyes are closed to the fear of God.”
(Psalm 36:2)

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.”

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.

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.


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10 thoughts on “Psalm 36: Sin Speaks to the Sinner”

  1. I used to think sinners will get what they deserve and the score will be settled in the end. The good are rewarded and go to heaven and bad are eternally punished in hell. Now I realize the more I recognize my sin the more I experience God’s wondrous love for me even in my sin, the transformative power of the infinite love and mercy of God at work. It is only God’s infinite love that transforms, and never fear and threats of eternal punishment. We know St. Paul was a murderer and St. Peter was an impulsive sinner and denied Christ, and yet God’s love, mercy and compassion transformed them into the greatest saints. God has a way of turning bad into good.

    May God give us peace.

    1. Paul Kwame Anaman

      Very powerful piece. I wish God to always show Us his ways of transformation and change from bad to good.

    2. It has been said that one sin always follows another. I have also heard that evil attracts evil, in reference to bad people.

      If hell is nothing more than the absence of Jesus, then one can make one’s hell right here in this world, just stop going to Mass on Sunday.

    3. Bob – Thank you for insights. Your comments touched my heart and reminded me that anything is possible with God including our salvation. Buen Camino and continued blessings.

  2. Thank you Father Jeremy for explaining this beautiful Psalm. Several years ago I committed to Christian Prayer and Psalm 36 is often included in the day’s readings.
    Sometimes it can be difficult to understand what the Psalmast I saying. I totally relate to your comment that good people experience guilt. God bless you Father

  3. Eleanor Brundage

    Multiplication of the loaf….no, Sin!
    Just imagine a priest abuses one or two kids, the untreated trauma from the abuse continues to victimize others and goes on and on to others. The abuse and trauma also continues when the institutional Church covers up the sin!

  4. I find it difficult to accept your premise that some people are “good”, and are therefore tempted, and some people are “evil”, and therefore require no temptation to commit sin. I don’t think it is even remotely that simple. I could write much more to explain my position, but there is not enough room in this format.

  5. Lord Jesus Christ, make us vigilant and attentive to your voice that we may heed your call at all times. May we find joy in your presence and delight in doing your will. Amen.

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