NOTEworthy September 20

Os Justi – Anton Bruckner

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks what is just.
The law of his God is in his heart;
and his steps will not be impeded.

Psalm 37:30-31

It’s a bit strange to say out loud (write out loud?), but I often think of my relationship with God in terms of its psychology. I’ve not taken but two Psychology courses in my life, but I find it fascinating to read about how and why we think the way we do. This weird fascination of mine in mind, when I see the Psalm verses set in this choral masterpiece, my mind goes to Jesus’ Good tree-Good Fruit message (Luke 6:43-44) and the fundamental attribution error.

Luke 6:43-45 reads, “‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.’”

And the fundamental attribution error boils down to this: We judge others on their personality and/or character, but we judge ourselves by the situation.

For example: Suzy Q is late to Sunday School because she is lazy. I am late to class because I had a bad morning.

The same tardiness happened to both people, but whereas it was easy to write Suzy Q off as intrinsically lazy, we can explain away our every shortcoming with extrinsic factors.

This bias is closely related to the Self-Serving Bias, which is the bias that our successes are deserved and earned, while our failures are situational.

Together, these biases paint a clear picture of how easy it is for us to let ourselves off the hook, and how quick we can be to define another person’s entire character by a single action. More to the point: we don’t judge ourselves by our actions, but we do judge other people by theirs.

In context of the Psalm verses set by Bruckner, I wonder how we would be served if, while still being kind and gentle with ourselves, we made an effort to hold ourselves more accountable to uttering wisdom and speaking what is just – even if that means acknowledging we messed up?

As Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Even with a verse so seemingly straightforward, a word of caution: I have experienced firsthand how easy it is to pervert that biblical truth and instead move the scales toward harsher judgement on ourselves. The verse begins with the words, “Do not judge.” The point of this axiom is not that we judge ourselves more harshly until we hate ourselves for our every little mistake. Christianity is not a religion of self-loathing!

The point is that we give grace. To ourselves, and to others.

Andy Eaton
Director of Music
First Presbyterian Church