More than any part of the Scriptures, it is the Psalms that have provided the greatest comfort for God’s struggling people through the centuries. Certainly I, as I have read through the Psalms over the last few months during this season of pandemic, have had my vision lifted beyond the wreck of the world and set on the glory of God and his king: David in the first instance, but ultimately the Lord Jesus.
As I have read through the Psalms over the last few months during this season of pandemic, have had my vision set on the glory of God and his king
Psalm 11 in particular struck me, and especially verse 3 where David asks “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” I imagine that many of us over these last few months have felt like “the foundations are being destroyed.” Of course, that is not an experience limited to the pandemic—many of us endure dark times in our lives where we feel that the very things that have given our lives stability have been pulled out from under us.
And yet, when we look closer, it turns out that this understanding of what is happening in the world is not actually David’s but is that of his enemies.
At the beginning of Psalm 11, he is actually paraphrasing a conversation with an imaginary advisor (or perhaps it is a record of a real conversation) who tells him that there is nothing left for him to do but to flee. The righteous are defeated, there is nothing you can do, David:
“flee like a bird to your mountain, for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart” (vv1-2).
It is all over, this advisor tells him: “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (v3). Yes, I know you are righteous David, but what you are facing is too tumultuous—just run and flee, there is nothing else you can do.
In response to this “helpful” advice, David does three things that I think are instructive for us.
1. Refuge in The Lord
As David faces crisis after crisis, he continues to trust. He is bold and sometimes uncomfortably direct with God, but he does not wane in his trust.
First, even though “the foundations are being destroyed,” David continues to “take refuge” in the Lord (1). This is something that is so striking as we read throughout the whole Psalter. As David faces crisis after crisis, he continues to trust. He is bold and sometimes uncomfortably direct with God (at least judged according to our evangelical sensibilities), but he does not wane in his trust. In Psalm 11, this reflex comes from his unshakeable conviction that no matter what is happening—no matter that the “foundations are being shaken”—God is still in control: “He is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne” (4). In a world of chaos—of death, disease and disappointment—God is in control.
As Christians we can read the life of David, and meet someone who suffered; who did not live a comfortable middle-class life; who experienced such intense grief that it threatened to destroy him—but who went on trusting in God all the same.
2. Testing Trials
Second, David understood the crisis he was going through as a period of testing or discipline—part of the process whereby the Lord “examines” or “disciplines” the righteous. David understood what the writer of Hebrews also knew: that discipline is a sign of the Lord’s love (Hebrews 12:6). Though it is painful, suffering “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (12:11).
Difficult times are … well difficult. Faced with a choice we would rather go through easy and pleasant times. But armed with the conviction that the Lord will use them to work in us, we will begin to see the hand of the Lord in even difficult times.
3. The Relief of Judgment
Third, David remembers God’s judgment (5-6). These verses are confronting, as David states that while the LORD “tests the righteous,” “his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”
This is not language that we are familiar with as Christians—accustomed, as we are, to the truth that God loves the world (John 3:16). But the idea that God “hates” the wicked (cf. 5:5) does not describe an emotional response on the part of God (apart from anything else God does not have emotions like we do—but that is a can of worms for another article!), but describes his settled opposition to the wicked. They are destined for judgment (e.g. 37:20).
Here is a reminder that we should use times of crises (like now) to share the good news of Jesus. There is a day of judgment to come.
There is a day of judgment when the foundations of the world really will give way. As Christians, we are to live in the light of that day.
It is also a reminder that, as much as we might feel that our foundations are being destroyed, there is a day of judgment when the foundations of the world really will give way (2 Peter 3:12). As Christians, we are to live in the light of that day.
Further, David remembers that final day will be one when he and all the “upright” will see the LORD face to face (11:7). With long-distance travel impossible at the moment, we can all relate to the longing to see absent friends face to face. David points to an even greater longing—to see the Lord face to face. I am sure there will be some great reunions when this current crisis is over (and it will end one day!) But for believers, there is a far more wonderful reunion to come (and it will come too!) when we are united with the Lord Jesus face to face.
Psalm 11 is a Psalm for our time. It is God’s word to us through the words of David. It shows us how to struggle-on and trust God in the midst of a crisis and tremendous difficulty. And, it points us to David’s greater descendant …
… the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2).