When babies are born, are they inherently evil, or are they innocent? A baby certainly seems to have a “selfish” nature, and on particularly difficult days we may be tempted to say the little thing has a demon! To some, the Psalms are a source of confusion concerning people and the condition in which they are born. Did David teach the doctrine of “original sin” – or could he even make up his mind about the matter? It is easy to get confused at first glance when reading his writings. Take the following, for example:
“The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth.” (Psalm 58:3)
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)
From other areas of the same book, we get the opposite message. Notice the interesting comparison:
“Yet you are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. Upon You I have been cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 22:9-10)
“For you are my hope; O Lord God; You are my confidence from my youth. By You I have been sustained from my birth; You are He who took me from my mother’s womb; My praise is continually of You.” (Psalm 71:5-6)
If we only looked at these verses, it would seem like the relationship was rather “on/off” between infants and the Lord God. What is the truth of the matter? Are we estranged from God due to wickedness straight from the womb, or are we held close by God from the beginning?
The answer has to come from taking a closer look at the context in which these statements are made: the Psalms. When we look at this book exegetically, we notice many things. One is this book is chalk full of exaggerations. In 69:14, David talks about his troubles being “deep waters,” a “flood,” and a“pit” shutting its “mouth” over him. Wow. This is a dramatic, but accurate accounting for how this man was feeling at the moment. Even in 71:20 he expresses anticipation of God bringing him up “from the depths of the earth.” These things are obviously not literal – the inspired writer is expressing man’s heart using recognizable figurative language.
We have to understand that the Holy Spirit inspired men to write in legitimate, existing literary forms. Poetry is one such form. This is a poetic writing, and it needs to be interpreted as such. Look again at Psalm 51. Verses 1 through 4 give us an immediate context in which to interpret verse 5:
“Wash ME thoroughly from MY iniquity and cleanse ME from MY sin. For I know MY transgressions, and MY sin is ever before ME. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight.”
Look at all of the possessive pronouns here – David was expressing one thought: I blew it. This was all my fault. When he says he was brought forth in iniquity, he expressed what each of us has felt at one time or another: I can’t do anything right – I’ve been a failure from the beginning! But verses 1-4 help us understand the source of this deep, personal dissatisfaction. As a man, David had great victories – he also made serious mistakes with serious consequences. His conscience worked and he was intellectually capable of claiming responsibility for the mess he was in, which is a difficult thing to come to terms with emotionally.
Now that we understand the impact that literary form has on interpreting these Scriptures, let’s broaden our perspective to include a different, more directly insightful kind of literature. Ecclesiastes is classified as “wisdom literature.” In this book, the Preacher has a pessimistic tone, but this is not due to a pricked conscience – it springs from his very accurate observations of life and the doings of men. After analyzing these particular verses from the Psalms, I want us to compare them with the statement found in Ecclesiastes 7:29:
“Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.”
Wow. Way to clear things up for us, Preacher. There is no misunderstanding his point: in this book, we learn God’s definitions of wisdom, accomplishment, folly, and vanity. This particular verse would be the definition of a waste. God creates men in an upright condition. They are born with all the potential in the world to be useful to Him and pleasing. But as we grow, we allow ourselves to be distracted by useless or harmful forms of self-gratification, and we choose to indulge in them instead of living up to our potential.
This is the condition in which we find the Psalmist as he writes his woeful dirge, mourning his innocence.
We need not become confused by this man’s seemingly up-and-down relationship with God. On the contrary – this is a source of personal comfort! When I have “blown it” so severely that it seems like I have been doomed to failure from the start… I can read the Psalms to remind myself that God rescues me, even from myself. There will be good days again – I will acknowledge my sin to Him and rest confidently in the arms of my God once more.
Remember these things as you read David’s words, and turn to the Psalms for comfort when you hit a “road bump” in your walk with God. The Holy Spirit has proved that He knows what you’re feeling, and He has preserved these words to help you get through. Hang in there, ladies!
By Keeley Rollert
Keeley Rollert and her husband, David, are currently students at the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver. They were married December 2008, and they look forward to working in whatever ministry God has planned for them when they finish school in May, 2011.