In the Office: Bad News that Offers Good

The Daily Office serves up three psalms today (Psalm 12, 13 and 14), and each one invites us to acknowledge the “bad news” that makes the “Good News” so hopeful and life-giving. Psalm 12 begins: “Help, LORD, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts” (12:1-2).  Psalm 14 contains a similar thought: “The LORD looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (14:2-3). And in between, in Psalm 13, we hear the cry of one who feels trapped by all that sinfulness: “How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will my enemy triumph over me” (13:1-2)?

Of course, most of us can identify with the feeling that the world around us corrupt. But what’s harder (and yet, no less essential) is acknowledging that the world within us is corrupt, too. Notice how the psalms just quoted highlight how all of us are broken: “No one is faith. Everyone lies to their neighbor. All have turned away. There is no one who does good, not even one.” And great thinkers down through the ages have struck a similar chord. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, for example, famously wrote: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.”

The Good News, however, is that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus address this human predicament. As John the Baptist says in today’s gospel lesson: “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). As Pastor Tim Keller puts it:

Keller on Gospel

If I’m honest, I’m not always eager to acknowledge my failings, my brokenness, and my sin. It’s so much easier to point out the failings of “those people” (where “those people” can conveniently include anyone who doesn’t believe like me, or vote like me, or value what I value). But acknowledged or not, the “bad news” is there. And it’s only when I can face the bad news that I’ll be able to receive the good. It’s only when I can confront the darkness that it becomes possible to find the Light that overcomes it.

Today, may we embrace the reality that we are simul justus et peccator (“simultaneously righteous and a sinner”), as Martin Luther put it, so that we can cling that much more tightly to the Savior whose unfailing love makes it possible for us to rejoice in salvation (Psalm 13:5).

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