In his book Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The Psalms are given to us to this end, that we may learn to pray them in the name of Jesus Christ.” The Psalms would have been the prayers Jesus learned as he was growing up Jewish in Nazareth, and Bonhoeffer writes that in praying the Psalms, we appropriate the language and prayer focus of Christ himself. He advocates that we learn to pray by praying as Christ prayed, saying, “The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.”
In that spirit, I prayed Psalm 11 today, and I share that experience with you.
I can trust God – Psalm 11:1a
The Psalmist opened this prayer with the words, “In the Lord I take refuge.”
These words assert faith in God in the face of trouble all around. I can identify with that situation. When I read or hear the daily news, I am overwhelmed with despair and dread. The events of each day are disturbing, and the consequences I foresee in the future are dispiriting. Yet, with the Psalmist, in words Christ himself would have prayed as he faced his ministry challenges, I can pray, “In the Lord I take refuge.”
People without faith counsel running away – Psalm 11:1b-3
It always seems easier to run away from challenges than to confront them. In fact, the strength of civil disobedience is always that their willingness to be confrontational is expected eventually to wear away the resistance of the general population to the change desired by the demonstrators.
Violent rebellions often triumph, as we see in the Middle East, just because people do not want to risk death to challenge them. Unlike a lot of commentators and political pundits, I do not see an outbreak of democracy in the Middle East as the guaranteed result of the violent ejection of some tyrants; there is no evidence so far that the rebels are any more supportive of freedom and democracy than the autocrats they have unseated.
People who see that nations around the world are in chaos will say, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” They accept that evil is winning, because it looks that way at the moment. I hear a lot of people blame God, saying things such as, “If God is so good, why is there war (or poverty, or hunger, or AIDS)?” Just like the people in the Psalmist’s day, they accuse God of weakness and indifference when things don’t go well. When Christ prayed these words, he knew the answer to the question, because he had come to be our defense against evil.
God knows what is going on – Psalm 11:4
The Psalmist sees beyond the world of time and space into the world of eternity and infinity. The Psalmist sees what John saw when he wrote in Revelation 4:2 – “There in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne!” The Psalmist wrote “[The Lord’s] eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind,” asserting his faith that God, indeed, sees what is happening.
The wicked suffer the consequences of their faithlessness – Psalm 11:5-6
To those who complain that God is doing nothing, the Psalmist responds that God is quite attentive and involved. Christ himself judged evil by his very presence. Religious and political leaders whose lives were evil behind pious facades felt that judgment when they were in his presence. The presence of God in the world fills evil people with guilt and shame which feel like coals of fire in the pit of their stomachs. In Revelation John wrote that the wicked feel so deeply anguished by the judgment that they run to the mountains and would prefer to be crushed under rockslides than endure the judgment of God’s presence, all because they refuse to receive his love and grace. They are not sent to the mountains; they run to the mountains, the very advice that faithless neighbors gave to the Psalmist.
Made righteous by Christ, I can trust God – Psalm 11:7
There is hope for me. When Christ prayed these words, he could stand in his own righteousness before the throne and say, “the upright shall behold his face.” I can never make myself righteous, but I am made righteous through the death and resurrection of Christ. I have no confidence in my own ability to withstand evil. On my own, to see God is to die, but clothed in the righteousness of Christ, I can stand upright and face God. No matter what is going on around me, I can trust God, because Christ has made me worthy.
The world of time and space looks hopeless. I fear that in this world, evil is so pervasive that I see no place to run where I could escape it. My own efforts to defend myself and lead others to reject evil seem completely useless. If I could not trust God, I would, indeed, be doomed. I have hope only in Christ who has redeemed me and rescued me from the evil of these days.