There is a story about a schoolboy who was asked what he thought God was like. He replied that, as far as he could make out, God was "The sort of person who is always snooping round to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it." And I am afraid that is the sort of idea that the word Morality raises in a good many people's minds: something that interferes, something that stops you having a good time. In reality, moral rules are directions for running the human machine. Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine. That is why these rules at first seem to be constantly interfering with our natural inclinations. When you are being taught how to use any machine, the instructor keeps on saying, "No, don't do it like that," because, of course, there are all sorts of things that look all right and seem to you the natural way of treating the machine, but do not really work.
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.'
- Psalm 1:1-6
The psalter opens with a contrast between the way of righteous and with the way wicked (vs 6). It is a contrast of visions for running the human machine, and it is ultimately about which way will lead to a happily running machine—fewer breakdowns, less strain, and less friction.
As the psalm unfolds the righteous are described like fruitful trees (vs 3), while the wicked are like chaff (v 4). The way of righteousness is rooted, it is watered, it has access to nutrients, and it is fruitful. The way of the righteous is blessed, it is well run, and in the end it is happy.
The way of the wicked is the opposite. Chaff (vs 4) is the scaly protective casing of the seeds of cereal grains. So, the way of the wicked is blown and tossed by the wind, it is dry, and it is does not have life or fruit.
What if life does not feel blessed? What if your way feels dry? What if it appears fruitless? What do you do when life feels more like being blown and tossed than a firmly planted tree?
In this psalm we are reminded of a truth and given two calls to action. First, the truth: “the Lord knows the way of the righteous” (vs 6). The word “know” can imply very intimate knowledge of a person. We cannot forget that God is intimately concerned with the path of the righteous. He knows the journey you are on, and He cares. None of the twists or turns surprise Him.
But that journey comes with calls to action. There are directions for running the human machine along this path. Verse 1 calls for separation from the way of the wicked. You cannot walk down both paths at the same time. The second call is impossible without the first. There is so much noise that the righteous must create space by a degree of separation to meditate on the law of God (vs 2).
What we need is to meditate on God’s law. This is especially true when there is breakdown, or a strain, or a friction. It is true in a moment of crisis, when we are panicking, when there is fear of a pandemic, or when there is troubling financial news.
Meditating on God’s law will tell us how the human machine ought to run. It will not be easy at first and it will go against common wisdom and even your own feelings about the way things ought to be.
Ultimately, it will drive us to love God, and that will make us happy.
When early Christians were called followers of the way, they were not merely being described by their belief structure or system of doctrine, they were identified by the way they lived their life. It was a way of life aligned with the way life is supposed to be and that led to happiness and joy even during difficult times.