“The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, He saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” -Psalm 116:6-7
Self-condemnation is a simple task. “How could I be such an idiot—this was an easy assignment and I failed!” “Why would I have ever said that? Am I actually that mean?” To condemn ourselves is easy, to grow from it is not. How, then, do we overcome our own condemning consciences, and what’s more, the condemnation of the Living God? Can we satisfy our own wrath and appease God Himself by appeals to our frail goodness, or by donating all that we have to the poor? Maybe service in a soup kitchen will be enough, or revitalized racial consciousness. These may be good things, but they cannot change the state of our souls.
We have a predicament: either we can maintain our own vain confidence in our abilities, or turn to God, humbly acknowledging our failure. Here, the psalmist recalls a time when he has done just that: noting that the “Lord preserves the simple,” he claims that the Lord “saved” him from death and distress (Ps. 116:1-4). Why does God do this? Because He is “gracious,” “righteous” and “merciful” (116:5). He is a just judge, but also kind. Jesus Christ, Son of God and Himself God, stands in our place, having suffered as a sacrifice, condemned on our behalf so that we can be acquitted (cf. Rom. 5, 8:1, Heb. 4, 1 Cor. 5:7, Ex. 12). All that remains is humble acknowledgement that we need this substitute for the simple reason that we cannot save ourselves. Only then will our lives be changed.
Faith in Jesus is humble, self-effacing. It understands the insufficiency of “good, clean living” to cleanse the conscience or steel the spine in trying times. Instead of focusing merely on self-improvement, it trusts Christ, whose Spirit provides moral growth (Gal. 5:22-23). By looking outwards to the life of Jesus, we see the standard by which we are measured and found wanting. Praise God, that when we were simple, “Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). Looking to the cross, we can repeat with the psalmist, “Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Then, for the joy set before us, we can imitate Christ, just as we are called to do (1 Cor. 11:1).
Lord, gracious and kind, we thank You for Your goodness. Open our eyes to our sin. Help us to see that for those in Jesus there is now no condemnation. Support us by Your Spirit as we grow in holiness. Even as we labor, grant our souls rest. Amen.
Passage for Further Reading:
Psalm 116, Romans 8
About the Author:
Jackson Lee is a third-year from Gastonia, NC studying classics at Vanderbilt University. His work emphasizes the history of Christianity and faith’s philosophical implications for modern life.