Today’s text is from Psalm 51:6:
And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
you teach me wisdom in the most secret space. (CEB)
I think this verse is about integrity. God wants us solid to the core. Truth is not just about the public appearance or validation of truth, but an inner correspondence between our being and the world.
Truth is a slippery concept in our society. Some people say there is none, that everything is spin, and the only thing that matters is how many people you can convince at any given time. I think this is one of the reasons, as Harry Frankfurt says, we are surrounded by bullshit. He says the difference between a lie and BS is that a lie is a knowing distortion of the truth; but BS doesn’t care what the truth is at all.
Let us be people of integrity. We may not always be able to tell truth from lies in the public world, and the are those who profit by spreading BS and humbug. But we follow The Way, The Truth, and The Life, who will direct our steps.
So, that’s the devotional part. Let me add a few academic notes about the Bible and translation, especially about this particular verse:
This is one of those verses that can be translated several ways. I learned it in Sunday school as a kid this way: “You desire truth in the inward being.” (That’s from the New Revised Standard Version). I liked “inward being,” because it sounds philosophical and mystical.
But you can translate it more concretely. Yet another translation, the New International Version, uses a different choice for “inward being” — womb. Womb actually makes more sense, especially when you put it in context:
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Another contemporary translation, the NET Bible, uses the word integrity, which I like. But these translators take it in a sexist direction: “You desire integrity in the inner man; you want me to possess wisdom.”
The word “man” is nowhere in the text. This translation was made in 1995, well after translators should have known better. Why not use “person?”
How did we get from womb to a place where women are entirely erased? Does God not desire integrity from women, too? It’s ironic to me that the translation of this verse, which is about inner integrity, illustrates the lack of integrity created by sexism.
Our privilege, our blindness to the ways we are shaped by sexism, racism, and other isms, puts holes in our integrity, in the correspondence between inward truth and the social reality with which we all live. God wants truth in our inward beings, in our deepest selves, because shalom (peace with justice) has to pervade our spiritual lives as well as our social lives.
It is ironic that the translation of this verse provides such a window into how social lies can corrupt our deepest selves.
I’ll say it again: let us be people of integrity.
Each Tuesday and Thursday I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here:
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