by Rod D. Martin
March 7, 2015
Should we be optimistic not merely in the face of great adversity, but in the shaking of the very foundations of our way of life? By this I do not ask whether we should trust in the Lord’s ultimate deliverance, but whether optimism and perseverance can be justified in this life, right now, in the face of generalized decay or even disaster.
As long as I can remember, I have heard well-meaning souls quote Psalm 11, lamenting the state of one thing or another — and usually America’s fate — with the Psalmist’s words, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” They invariable and rightly call us to repent, seeking action before “the foundations are destroyed,” after which the only hope they can see is in Heaven. There is frequently an eschatological aspect to this, and an apocalyptic tone in their analysis of the nation’s, and our, state.
But they misread the text, and thus miss David’s point.
In Psalm 11, David quotes some unnamed person or persons who have given him the following counsel (vv. 1-3): “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; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
Ironically, our counselors today take not David’s position, but that of those he opposes.
David rejects their counsel utterly. In verse 1 he begins, “In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul…” and then quotes their words as above. “How can you say to me” David asks them with indignation, as though an exclamation point should follow.
In the eighth volume of his Commentaries, Calvin tells us that the events of Psalm 11 take place at a time when David was on the run from Saul. Hard pressed on every side, abandoned even by his own countrymen and by the King he has faithfully served, he and his men have no place to go, no chance for rest, no obvious provision and dangers at every turn. His wife has been taken from him, his income lost, his life utterly disrupted. No longer counted as a son of the King, he has become an object of derision and scorn. How could he not despair?
But he doesn’t.
In verse 1, he asks in effect “How can you even suggest such a thing?” He elaborates with the entire remainder of the Psalm:
4 The LORD is in his holy temple;
the LORD’s throne is in Heaven;
His eyes see, His eyelids test the
children of man.
5 The LORD tests the righteous,
but His soul hates the wicked and
the one who loves violence.
6 Let Him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind
shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the LORD is righteous;
He loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold His face.
Some take this to suggest just what David’s (and our) well-meaning counselors said: that beyond a certain, all too near-term point, our only hope is in Heaven. Since ultimately that is true, it’s easy to stop right there, but doing so completely misses David’s point.
These sincere prophets of Earthly doom look at the current circumstances, see the decay and rot and active persecution of sinners, and call the end of the game. But God permits no such thing. It is not only in the eschatological sense that “only the Father knows the day and the hour,” and He expects us to fight on, with full hope of His gracious and mighty deliverance and, yes, victory.
Indeed, that was exactly what David received. From this dire state, he persevered in faith, rejecting the arguments to quit. It took time and hardship: indeed, half the nation was overrun by an invading foe before things got better. But God raised David up first as King of Judah, then of all Israel, and then as master of all the nations from the Brook of Egypt to the Great River (the Euphrates), a territory encompassing the entire western half of the Fertile Crescent. His ascension ushered in Israel’s Golden Age, his became one of the great empires of its time, his son’s perhaps the very greatest. And his Seed reigns even now at the Father’s right hand.
Perhaps even more to the point, there were perhaps two million believers then. There are over two billion today.
God did indeed sweep away much of the old order, the foundations of which had been destroyed. He created something far better (and largely unforeseen) in its place. David’s faithfulness made him that new order’s executor and heir, the only man whom God ever called “a man after mine own heart.”
Western civilization faces a great trial. Much of the inheritance of millennia is being cast off. It is a dangerous, difficult time, and faithful people are right to be greatly concerned. America bears a precious inheritance, constitutionally and culturally, that we should struggle mightily to preserve and fortify and pass down to our children’s children.
But if the foundations are indeed shaken, or even ultimately destroyed, what can the righteous do? To quote Spurgeon, “What can they not do?” Indeed, our aim is not to lament the loss of things gone before, no matter how great, but to press on to better. One can imagine the heartbreak of the Founders as they lamented their lost rights and place as Englishmen. But they did not give up: rather they gave us the better nation and ideas we hope to preserve today.
Should we find ourselves in their position, personally or nationally, we must in faith follow their and David’s example. Rest is for Heaven. We are but given so much life. We are required to use it, with all our might, walking by faith and not by sight.