“Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers.” (Psalm 1:1-2)
While reading this Psalm today, I began to wonder what it might mean to “sit in the seat of scoffers.” The phrase first stood out to me because of the alliteration; why else would there be a “seat” specifically for scoffers? Then I realized that scoffers are not doers; they sit on the sidelines. The scoffers sit and gossip about the righteous, watching them try and fail, battle and bruise. The righteous have the courage to live out the will of God, while the wicked hide behind their empty pride. The scoffers live in their own heads, too afraid to try or fail, too proud to take their place in battle, too fragile to suffer consequence. The righteous, the Psalm says, “are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season.” The righteous know their need for Living Water, and so, desire to be near to its source. The withering wicked settle into dry ground, not daring to hope that such water could ever exist.
I’m currently re-reading CS Lewis’ children’s series: The Chronicles of Narnia. In the first book, The Magician’s Nephew, a cowardly magician named Uncle Andrew uses animals and children to perform dangerous experiments related to magic. Uncle Andrew justifies his cowardice and pride by claiming to have superiority over those he treats as guinea pigs. He tells his nephew: “Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules” (21). In his own mind, this freedom gives him the right to use and mistreat those who are supposedly beneath him.
Later in the story, A Queen named Jadis looks down from a terrace upon her desolate land. She boasts to the protagonists that she had once slaughtered every living thing in her own world using only one deplorable word. When the children show disgust instead of awe, she explains that “What would be wrong for you or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I” (68).
The narrator in the story describes vanity, pride, and lust for power as a kind of “silliness” that grown-ups like Andrew and Jadis indulge. This silliness, unlike the silliness of children, has abysmal consequences for the grown up characters themselves. For example, when Jadis and Andrew witness the birth of a new and beautiful world, they cannot appreciate the beauty, the purity and the goodness of creation. Instead, they sense a threat to their treasured pride, being unable to resist the power, the goodness and the purity of the Creator. What we can learn from this is the danger of scoffer-like pride and fear. If we only rely on our own wisdom and power, we are less inclined to take risks at personal cost. If we are unwilling to step off the sidelines, we may well miss out on the beauty that God wishes to reveal to us through nature, through others, and through lessens of humility. Let us have the child-like courage to hope, to abandon our pride, and to embrace whatever mystery God has in store for us. We will never know what worlds lay ahead unless we get off of the seat of scoffers.
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