When Things Look Bleak...
Like many other Christians, I am deeply concerned about the direction in which our country has been moving and the speed at which it continues to move. The murder of the unborn, the celebration of every form of sexual immorality, the increase in public acts of violence, perpetual discrimination, sex trafficking, and a rise in religious intolerance certainly top the list of moral evils over which we should grieve. If the outrage and anger we witnessed in 2020 is any indicator of things to come, the future looks bleak. Along with the decay of the moral fabric of our society is the inevitability of opposition to Christ and His church. This rightly leaves believers unsettled in heart and mind. However, so many scramble to get behind a political leader in order to alleviate fears. Conspiracy theories abound to justify in the minds and hearts of the fearful why they should be fighting for a political solution. However, when fears or concerns rise up in our minds and hearts, what does God call us to do? Thankfully, He has given us all that we need in His word. The Psalms alone provide us with enough encouragement to trust in the God who made the heavens and the earth, when everything around us seems bleak. Consider, for instance, Psalm 124.
One of the Songs of Ascent, the people of God sung this Psalm as they made their way to the Temple every year. When they ascended the hill of Zion, they would hear one another singing:
"'If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,'
Let Israel now say—
'If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
When men rose up against us,
Then they would have swallowed us alive,
When their wrath was kindled against us;
Then the waters would have overwhelmed us,
The stream would have gone over our soul;
Then the swollen waters
Would have gone over our soul.'
Blessed be the Lord,
Who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers;
The snare is broken, and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth."
Martin Luther--a man who knew what it was to face severe opposition from every side--reflecting on the usefulness of this Psalm, wrote,
"We may well sing this Psalm, not only against our enemies which openly hate and persecute us, but also against spiritual wickedness. For we know, from the teaching of the gospel, that now seven devils beset us, whereas formerly we had only one to fear. But this is not the whole of our danger; a third enemy must rise up against us, within ourselves, whom we carry along with us and tenderly preserve, namely. . .our flesh, which incites us to sin at all times and makes disturbance, is contrary to faith, and fights against the spirit in all our members."
Here, Luther teaches us that this Psalm not only applies to the confidence that we should have in the Lord as our Helper to deliver us from external opposition and rage--but that we should be confident in Him when our own flesh rises up against us. This perspective is key. If we only look outward at the cultural and political landscape, we will be tempted to trust in political manuevering and external solutions for deliverence. But when we see our own flesh rising up within us, we recognize that none but the Lord can deliver us from our own spiritual wickedness. If there is no other recourse than the Lord when our flesh rises up aginst us, how much more should we flee to him when we find ourselves in perplexing societal situations! This should encourage us to sing these words no matter the moral decay and increased anomisity toward Christians in society.
Some might be tempted to limit the word of this Psalm to Israel in the Old Covenant. However, God equally gave this song to the New Covenant church. John Calvin, reflecting on the closing words of this song, explains, "he now extends to the perpetual state of the church what the faithful had formerly experienced." It is a call for believers in every age to find their help in the name of the Lord, when facing trouble.
Consider also the words of Psalm 146:3–7:
"Do not put your trust in princes,
Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
His spirit departs, he returns to his earth;
In that very day his plans perish.
Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea, and all that is in them;
Who keeps truth forever,
Who executes justice for the oppressed,
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners."
Here, we are reminded that no person, or accumlation of persons, can bring salvation. If this is true on a spiritual plane, it is just as true in the physical sphere. The best men can never give what God alone can give, since they are mere men. J.C. Ryle summarized this so well, when he said, "The best of men are only men at their very best. Patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, – martyrs, fathers, reformers, puritans, – all are sinners, who need a Savior: holy, useful, honorable in their place – but sinners after all.”
When we are tempted to trust in some particular person or political party to provide deliverance and security, we have a vain hope. The God who made heaven, and earth, the sea and all that is in them, is the One who provides deliverence and security for His people. This God has secured a city that has foundations--a lasting city--for His people (Heb. 11:10, 16; 13:14). He has, through His own death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, secured victory over our enemies--the world, the flesh, and the devil. He alone provides salvation. He alone atones for our sins. He alone sets the prisoner free. He alone raises us from death to life. He alone is the One in whom we should find our help. As we do, we can sing with confidence,
"O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home;
Under the shadow of your throne
your saints have dwelt secure.
Sufficient is your arm alone,
and our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God,
to endless years the same.
A thousand ages in your sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
soon bears us all away.
We fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the op’ning day.
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home.