Psalm 11 is a song of trust in God who is recognized as the source of all that is just and righteous. It recognizes that when troubles come we can respond in two very different ways: run for the hills, or have faith and trust in God’s justice.
The psalmist clearly understands our human nature too. The world can be a very threatening place at times. Most of us are safe from the the threat of persecution for our faith. Those of us who live in the West may feel the sting, at times, of the effete, self-impressed derisiveness of the “intellectual elites” who believe that they have “evolved” beyond religion’s “ancient myths and legends.” We might be troubled by the ire that comes at us from those who despise all religion, perceiving it as some puritanical attempt to limit their supposed “freedoms.” We may feel at a loss to respond to the negative depictions of religion in the media, or when some supposed “talk show sophisticate” makes cynically humorous remarks at our expense. But all of this pales in comparison to what Christians are enduring and suffering in various parts of the world today at the bloody hands of those who hate them and who (with no small touch of irony) rationalize their murderous actions as being done “in the name of God.”
What can we look to for help us in these situations? David, the psalmist, tells us that God knows our hearts. He observes every single soul on earth and he knows those who are righteous and those who are not. He knows those who love justice, who give mercy generously, who walk in the ways of the Lord, and he knows those who love violence and who treat others with wickedness. There is a truth in all of this that is recognized in every human heart. God loves justice. We know this instinctually from our earliest childhood. We know the difference between good and wicked acts. And when we are the victims of the unrighteous actions or words of others, we cry out for justice. God knows the difference, for He IS perfect righteousness and justice, He IS perfect goodness and truth. All that is good is from God. Everything that is bad comes from being in opposition to God. We know that treating others as we would have them treat us, is the chief means through which true justice enters the world. No one denies this, at least no one in their right mind. We Christians also know that when we love God with our whole being, and our neighbors as ourselves, we are cooperating directly with God’s law, which is the one and true source of justice for all. On the other hand, we also know that everything that is done willfully for the benefit of the selfish ego, that causes others to suffer, is unrighteous and unjust. This is because the “Natural Law,” that is, the Law of God, is written on our consciences. The other side of justice, of course, is punishment, which is the natural consequence for defying this Natural Law. This punishment for unjust deeds can affect us here on earth and, if unrepented, in eternity.
God gives life and mercy to those who are righteous, and he punishes those who are wicked and unjust. God does neither for his own benefit. He needs nothing from us. The reward for living righteously is two-fold: first, justice is the source of public order and, therefore, happiness in communion with all around us. Secondly, in living righteously, in accord with God’s laws, we are acting in the image and likeness of God that we were made in and, therefore, we experience the joy of his perfect goodness, both here and in eternity. Punishing the wicked gives no delight to the Lord. His punishments are just and, if accepted in that light, they can be instructive to the sinner, inspiring him or her to get back onto the “narrow path” to heaven. If, on the other hand, the wicked remain willful in their rebellion like the Satan of John Milton’s great epic poem, Paradise Lost, shouting pridefully into the very face of God, that it is, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven” then the punishment of eternal loneliness belongs to the sinner alone. The great irony, of course, is that God would offer the wicked the freedom of His infinitely loving forgiveness, if they would only turn away from their own self-gazing egoes and look into the loving face of God for even a split second.
Lord, increase our trust in you. Help us to see the wisdom of your justice and to live it in our daily lives. It is your face that we long to see. Grace us with the strength to love others as you have loved us, Lord. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen!
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