God Pointing Errors
Image: Russell H Cribb on Flickr
But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

This is Psalm 19 12-13; I read it last week. I was struck by the awareness of our lack of awareness! It is interesting to read that there has always been a brokenness about us and our world where some sin is obvious and other sin we don’t even realise is there.

I read this during the news here over the resignation of the Health Secretary. What was fascinating about this episode what the variously different interpretations of what might have been the ‘sin’ around the issue. Hypocrisy seemed to be the most agreed wrongdoing. This was especially over breaking the social distancing rules – lips certainly closer than two metres, as well as a rogue roving hand. It was also around dubious job roles, paid appointments and ignoring of procedures. Finally, there was some concern over marital betrayal in the story – interestingly, a number of voices saying that the days are over for such behaviour to have any impact on the integrity of public service.

We see that there is still an awareness of what the bible calls sin. From deliberate immoral choices to a missing the mark of what is seen as good and best. But what is generally seen as moral in people’s eyes changes over time and culture. This may be a good thing or a bad thing: shame cripples people so is not the best indicator of right and wrong; but then there are some areas in our thinking that may well be destructive to us but no-one notices that anymore. In the case this week, two families have been badly damaged and need our prayer. People who have stuck by the rules at great personal cost feel very let down by those who make then break those rules. Corruption of power should always be held to account, especially when the rich in resource or power get richer and the poor get poorer. And of course, we should trust that measures to protect us and our privacy are not then sold to newspapers without comment – however revealing of injustice they may be.

I also reflected on some of the Giants that confront our society at present. Our church is looking particularly at racism, earth mismanagement, extreme politics and mental ill health with a view to pursuing these things in depth as part of our discipleship. What I have seen in these is the way that hidden faults and our own errors are really not obvious to us. That is why ideas such as unconscious bias and superiority are so helpful – this is new language for our ancient understanding of our own fragility and ignorance articulated here in Psalm 19. I don’t easily realise that some of my attitudes are actually not based on God’s truth but on my own forming within my culture. My lack of intentional care for God’s earth is revealed. My life and expectations that have not been aware of those people who have always felt powerless for particular reasons. My easy slide into partisan politics and the rigid tramlines of how we should see economic and social solutions to our nation’s problems. My ignorance of brokenness and sadness that lies beneath the surface in many people’s lives.

How do we know what is right or what is wrong? There are thought patterns that we just ‘have’ and we automatically assume they’re OK. Different people have different ideas of morality and the impact of being ‘immoral’, so it’s not easy to know what is conviction from the Holy Spirit and what are simply current cultural agreements on what is good and what is bad. The early church faced the same condundrums and relied on the Word of God, the Holy Spirit and lots of honest and frank dialogue to find its way through.

I wonder if where I can start on this – so I don’t end up in the same trouble that the Health Secretary did and so I can see my place more clearly within these big issues of justice and righteousness – is by doing what the psalmist did. He read the bible with an open heart and a keenness for truth that is like the pursuit of the sweet tooth for the most sugary buttery pudding. This kind of hope, zeal, honesty and willingness to be held to account means that we would more often avoid the obvious pitfalls and willful sins, as well as become refreshingly and liberatingly aware of things in our hearts and minds that lurk unhelpfully and miss the mark of Gods truth and beauty. This is the high value of the word of God:

9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous.
10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
11 By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.
14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19

Martin J Young


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