We turn now to the final strophe of Psalm 26. God has probed our hearts, and found that we long for him and his dwelling place, not for the company of the wicked. And in the second to last strophe, we have begged him not to leave us among the wicked. Now comes the conclusion of this Psalm – and insight into all the Psalms:
“But I walk in my innocence;
Redeem me and have mercy on me.
My foot stands on a straight path;
In the congregations I will bless the Lord.”
The turn now is to our “walk”: after all the talk of what is in our hearts, we now set off to go there.
The juxtaposition of the first two lines is interesting – and recapitulates the structure of the whole Psalm. “I am innocent | redeem me.” If I am innocent, do I need redemption?
The answer, always the answer in the theology of the grace, is both-and. Redemption, God’s grace and salvation, does not save us from the need to walk. God’s grace allows us to walk. And our walking doesn’t make us need God’s grace any less; it makes us see more deeply our need for his grace, for his redemption, to allow us to walk to our goal.
We must never oppose grace and works. Grace allows us to work.
Work – the walk – is important, because ultimately we are important. I just read today yet another confused attempt to sort out whether religion is “about us” or “about God.” This one was talking about liturgy, and said, essentially, it might be nice if we can participate, but liturgy is really “for God,” and it doesn’t matter if we participate.
This is nonsense – or, rather, it is a good insight very badly put. In the moral realm it would raise more red flags. It would say something like, God doesn’t need us to be righteous; he is righteous!
That’s true enough. But God offers us righteousness. That’s the purpose of morals, and the purpose of liturgy. God doesn’t need any of it! Rather he offers it to us. It is he who allows us to walk: the walk of morality and the walk of liturgy. It is ultimately “about us”: both liturgy and morality are about us being redeemed.
But it comes from God – only God can allow us to pray and to live a life ordered to God. And it is ordered to God: liturgy is pointless unless we | pray to God. And morality is pointless unless we are truly converted | to God.
And so it is important, at the end of all our prayers, to return to the theme of “walking.” It makes little sense to say “I love your house,” or “leave me not among the wicked,” unless it bears fruit in the transformation of our lives, our “walk.”
Nonetheless, for all the importance of our walking, our Psalm 26, and all the Psalms, and all truly Christian spirituality, hems in these thoughts about walking with lots and lots of God talk.
Walking comes only at the end of the Psalm: only after our hearts are firmly set on our destination.
And Psalm 26 almost comically returns immediately from the one line about walking to lots of lines about God. First, “redeem me!” No, walking doesn’t mean I stop thinking about redemption. It means I think more deeply about what redemption really means.
Then, “my foot stands on a straight path”: a recognition that my very ability to walk, the ground under my feet and the way forward, comes not from my walking but from God’s grace. He puts me in the place where I can walk.
And finally, “in the congregations I will bless the Lord”: because my walking is ordered to Jerusalem. I walk to the place of prayer. That’s what our walk is all about: having our faces turned toward Jerusalem.
Walking is a helpful metaphor for thinking about the moral life. Compare walking to earlier talk about our hands. “I have washed my hands in innocence,” we said before. And the wicked “have blood on their hands.” But now we “walk in innocence.”
Both metaphors are important. But walking emphasizes that we are going somewhere. Indeed, if we think of our “works” purely in terms of our hands, we might think the point is that we make something for God. Lucky him!
But to the contrary, what we are really making is ourselves. Or in other words, what we are really “working” at is to move ourselves, to “walk,” to Jerusalem, to be in his presence.
What parts of your Christian “walk” are you tempted to think about without reference to God? Are there ways you replace spirituality with moralism?