09 10

03 June 2016

Psalm 10: Repellent Vices

This psalm is another one that I read and re-read before it started to come into focus. One thing that I'm starting to really appreciate about studying and blogging about every single psalm is that it makes me slow down and really see them: I have to be patient and persistent in searching for what the Spirit will teach me about these chapters. It can be frustrating, but I am finding that it's yielding some lovely results.

So I re-read the 10th Psalm. Again. And this time, I'm noticing a whole lot of what not to do. This psalm has a lengthy list of vices, sins, and behaviors to guard against.

  • persecuting the poor
  • boasting
  • not seeking God
  • scoffing (puffing) at your enemy
  • overestimating your own strength
  • speaking curses
  • speaking deceitfully or fraudulently
  • murdering the innocent
  • setting your eyes against the poor
  • lying in wait to catch the poor
  • thinking God doesn't see you

There's a lot in there. I think it's interesting how many of the items on this list deal with how we treat the poor, and generally how you treat those who society suggests are of lesser status -and less status typically goes hand-in-hand with the idea that they are less valuable, which of course is completely untrue. But how we treat the "invisible" people - the cashier, the teller, the housekeeper at work, it matters. It really is true: you can tell a lot about a person by watching how they treat the waitress. 

So. Vices. We should be getting rid of them. But we don't talk about them much in our day. We don't have a good long look at deceitfulness (and the rest), to see how ugly it really is. I've also recently been reading a lot from Charlotte Mason, a 19th Century educator who has inspired a homeschooling movement, and she talked about the value of seeing the contrasts between virtue and vice, and I think it is her words that have made it so that I can see this list of vices and sins more clearly. This is what she said:

In the Arena Chapel at Padua, we have Giotto's Faith and Infidelity, Love and Envy, Charity and Avarice, Justice and Injustice, Temperance and Gluttony, Hope and Despair, pictured forth in unmistakeable characters for the reading of the unlearned and ignorant. We have the same theme, treated with a difference, in what Mr. Ruskin calls the "Bible of Amiens," where Humility and Pride, Temperance and Gluttony, Chastity and Lust, Charity and Avarice, Hope and Despair, Faith and Idolatry, Perseverance and Atheism, Love and Discord, Obedience and Rebellion, Courage and Cowardice, Patience and Anger, Gentleness and Churlishness,--in pairs of quatre-foils, an upper and a lower, under the feet of each Apostle, who was held to personify the special virtue. But we know nothing about cardinal virtues and deadly sins. We have no teaching by authoritative utterance strong in the majesty of virtue. We work out no schemes of ethical teaching in marble, we paint no scale of virtues on our walls, and no repellent vices. Our poets speak for us it is true; but the moral aphorisms, set like jewels though they be on the forefinger of time, are scattered here and there, and we leaven it serenely to happy chance whether our children shall or shall not light upon the couple of lines which should fire them with the impulse to virtuous living. It may be said that we neglect all additional ethical teaching because we have the Bible; but how far and how do we use it? Here we have indeed the most perfect ethical system, the most inspiring and heart-enthralling, that the world has ever possessed; but, alas, it is questionable whether we attempt to set a noble child's heart beating with the thought that he is required to be perfect as his Father which is in Heaven is perfect.
-Charlotte Mason, Teaching in the Branches

Looking at some of the works of art that she mentions, relics from a time when Bibles were copied by hand, and only the very elite had access to them, is interesting. In order to teach, they would paint and sculpt the virtues and vices on the walls of cathedrals: virtues to measure yourself against, and also demonstrations of how repellent vice is. There's a lot you can learn from the Bad Guys; I've written about that before. It's pleasant and inspiring to study virtue, and deciding to develop virtues is a hopeful, optimistic enterprise. But it takes courage to have a long look at your faults and to then head to the scriptures and study those faults.

I love, too, that the Psalmist didn't leave us with only repellent vices; the end of the chapter is an assurance of the Lord's care for those who follow Him, and hope for relief in Him.

Photo courtesy LDS Media Library

1 comment:

Anne Chovies said...

Caring for the poor and helpless is a theme found all through the Mosaic Law and the Gospel. The Lord has told us there will always be those in need and He is watching to see how we treat them. It's cool where you find this so poetically said.


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