In the Lord I haven taken refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
“Fly like a bird to the mountains;
For look, the wicked bend the bow,
they have fitted their arrow to the string,
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.
If the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”
The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord ’s throne is in heaven.
His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind.
The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
and his soul hates the lover of violence.
On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur
a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.
Reflection - The Monday Psalter has again delivered up a psalm most suitable for people suffering persecution, oppression, violence, war, hatred. In short, a psalm that is most suitable for many millions of people living in the world today, particularly in various countries of the Middle East, the Ukraine, and elsewhere.
It is very significant that God chose to be the recipients of his revelation, not the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Babylonians, the Assyrians. Not the great and powerful empires of the ancient world, in other words, but rather a little tribe perched on a narrow strip of land surrounded by larger and more heavily armed neighbors who were in a state of near-constant warfare with one another.
Israel did have a brief period of ascendancy and consequent peace in its history, in the reigns of David and Solomon more or less, but not long after that came the succession of imperial powers, a sword constantly held at the throat of God’s chosen people.
And these are the people to whom God chose to reveal Himself and ultimately entrusted the fullest revelation of His own self becoming man and living among us. And of course this fullest revelation itself bears the mark of powerlessness, weakness, lowliness. Jesus did not come with a sword to set the world at right by violence, but was Himself a victim of violence and injustice.
There is something to truly contemplate in all this. We live, more and more, in a world that worships power and violence above all else. The way to overcome evil is to blow it away with a 357 Magnum, or so several hundred Hollywood action movies have assured us.
It is not that we are never to resist evil in this way—as I have said previously, I am not a pacifist, exactly. There are times when the common good, and the good of the evil-doer himself, requires that force be used to put an end to violent deeds.
I think that what the psalms convey to us, and what the whole of our Christian revelation conveys as well, is that while we must use violent means at times to curb violence, we must not put our trust in these means. Justice will never come at the point of a sword, or from the barrel of a gun. Justice comes from one place and one place alone, and that is heaven, from the exercise of perfect justice-in-love of the Father.
And so as we make the hard choices we have to make (I write this in deep awareness of the extreme difficulty facing world leaders right now in their response to the IS and other situations) our call as Christians is to continually not look to the mountains (symbols, Scripturally, of human pride and strength) for refuge, but to the Lord of the mountains, the God of heaven. And to trust that God is ultimately working out the salvation and redemption of all people, and that his justice will in the end prevail over human wickedness, violence, and hate.
This is the revelation He has given us; this is the prayer of faith given us in Psalm 11.