Sin carries its own punishment. I grew up hearing the phrase, “God’s punishing you,” which usually referred to the consequences of something I did that I shouldn’t have. We can look at God’s “punishment” that way, but the truth is, it isn’t really God’s punishment. If a child touches a hot stove and burns himself, is the burn on their hand a punishment from their parent or just a consequence of disobedience? God does well to try to warn us about what is good and bad for us. In Psalm 36, we see David recognizing the folly of those who reject God.
Selfishness, deceit, wickedness, foolishness, and hatred are the adjectives used in the first part of David’s writing. Normally we would look at this with an attitude of, “yeah, take that! Don’t be dumb and ignore the Lord!” But how often do we identify with the characteristics listed in the first 4 verses? How often do we transgress God or others? How often do we flatter ourselves or speak words of wickedness and deceit? How many times have we listened to foolishness instead of godly wisdom? How often do we not despise evil?
In contrast, David begins to list not necessarily the characteristics of righteous people (because we cannot truly be righteous save the grace of God), but the goodness of God. His lovingkindness, patience, righteous judgment, and pleasure for His people are all things David recognizes in accordance with God’s goodness. It isn’t because of how good we are that we are able to experience God’s abundance and blessing, but His goodness extended to us in mercy and our obedience in response to be able to live in the blessing. It is by grace through faith we are saved, not righteous works on our own part.
Once we recognize that it’s not about us and all about Him, we can avoid this self-righteous attitude and simply enjoy His goodness instead of trying to earn His favor. We cannot earn God’s favor, but we can certainly receive it.