The early chapters of Romans can be seen as a Great Courtroom Scene where the human race, both Jew and Gentile, because of their depravity, are all found guilty before a righteous God. When the apostle Paul, as a kind of prosecuting attorney, cites passages from the Old Testament to support this indictment, it’s interesting that five out of the six citations come from the Psalms (14:3; 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; 36:1). This is because the Psalms looks at the human species with a clear–eyed realism and wisdom often found missing from today’s most respected intellectuals. The first citation (Psalms 14:1–3) sets the tone for the passage (Romans 3:10b–12):
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
The last reference (Psalm 36:1) puts an exclamation mark on the case against humanity:
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
This window of insight into the human condition makes the earnest reader of the Psalms wise in many ways:
(1) It gives him or her a starting point in the spiritual life called humility or brokenness. Without the grace of God, we are a moral, spiritual, emotional, and psychological mess. As Jesus said in John 15:5: “…apart from me you can do nothing.” If we don’t begin with this starting point in our Christian pilgrimage–“I’m basically okay; I just need a little help from God now and then”– it will not go well with us. It will be like building a house on a concrete foundation (the starting point) that is cracked, not plumb, and not square. By the time we are building the second floor, the entire house is grossly skewed. It will not endure the storms that are coming its way and great will be its fall: pride goes before a fall.
(2) It helps us sort through the cultural messages we are bombarded with every day. For example: “Follow your heart.” Sometimes this message is harmless. A young women grows up in a family that pressures her to either become a doctor or lawyer. Her heart is not in this career path. She has gifts in the culinary arts and has a dream of becoming an accomplished chef and restaurant owner. She should follow her heart and pursue this passion instead of trying to make her parents happy. On the other hand, sometimes our culture encourages us to follow our hearts and engage in behavior that goes against the wisdom of God’s word . The link between couples co–habitating before marriage and higher divorce rates is irrefutable. Such decisions are often made because the couple followed their hearts, not recognizing that the heart can be deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) and is often not a trustworthy compass on our trek through this life.
(3) It gives us wisdom in understanding the larger social issues of our day. Throughout much of the 20th century and into the 21st, many secular intellectuals were convinced that people were basically good and that their bad behavior was mostly due to poverty and a lack of education. Today, though poverty is still a major issue, the world has never been better fed and well–educated but the evidence of human depravity is still all around us. Wars, genocide, sexual immorality, abortion, greed, oppression of the poor, man’s inhumanity to man. This state of affairs is only changed when hearts are changed; if not, we are merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. May God raise up a glorious Church that becomes a Lifeboat that carries the fleeing masses to the arms of a merciful God.