PSALM 15

O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

This can sound a lot like “works righteousness,” a term used by Protestants against what has been perceived as the merit system of Catholic Christianity. Even though the list of virtues is unarguably beyond the abilities of any of us – who can “live blamelessly,” do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart all the time? – are we being led to believe that moral performance is the key to eternal life?

Actually, this is yet another place where religion has reversed the proper order of cause and effect in the spiritual life. We must not assume that the psalmist is a booster for works righteousness (just as it is wrong to assume every Catholic is).

More likely, and if the writer of this particular psalm is David, then almost certainly the “good behaviors” that are listed and praised are to be understood as manifestations of a healthy communion with God, rather than as prescriptions for getting in God’s good company. Causal order in the spiritual life is always inner to outer, soul into body, purity of heart bearing fruit in a life of moral commitments.

We might say that the shift by which a person becomes aware that life must be lived from the inside-out is the critical step from religious duty to spiritual calling. It’s no longer about fitting in, defending the tradition, bowing to orthodoxy, or “pleasing God,” but is instead about living authentically, loving expansively, and allowing the gracious presence of Spirit to live through you.

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