I have long thought verse 3’s question, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” was a righteous one. But as I study this psalm I don’t think it comes from a believing heart, but from a heart that has not placed its trust in God. Furthermore, I think the question actually undermines the trust we place in God and leads us to despair. To illustrate this point, I have re-written Psalm 11 as a conversation between the psalmist and an antagonist who didn’t believe in God.
Antagonist: Don’t you see everything that’s going on around you? The world is full of hate, it is full of violence, and innocent people are being killed all the time. How is it that you still trust in God and still think he’s in control?
Psalmist: I’m not blind, I do see the injustice. I guess I still trust in God because he’s the only refuge available to humanity. How is it…
Antagonist: [interrupting the Psalmist] HA! HA! HA! You, my friend, are an idiot! Look at how so many innocent people are being killed! Evil used to hide in the dark places of the earth waiting to pounce on the so called “righteous” people, but now evil is bold and walks the streets in broad day-light. People maim and kill as they want, and they do it without impunity! Don’t you understand the very foundations of civilized society are being torn apart in front of our very eyes! Those things that were once shameful and done in the darkness have been brought into the light and praised as being a just and free expression of one’s humanity! If you really want to be safe, you just need to find a place to hide, a safe place in the mountains or somewhere on a distant island to live while we wait for the wicked destroy themselves.
Psalmist: I know it’s bad, trust me, I know. I’ve lost some friends to the senseless violence and I’ve seen others abandon their faith in God. Many blind themselves to reality with sensual pleasures and material security, in fact, I’ve often been tempted to do the same. But whenever I think about blocking out the evil senseless acts of a faithless society by running away I realize in doing so I would be denying my trust in God. You see…
Antagonist: [interrupting again] I can’t believe you! When was the last time God stepped in and stopped anything evil. Just name one! The number of massacres keep piling up and yet the heavens stand silent. I don’t know why you hold on to any trust in this “God” you say is there; just curse him and embrace the inevitability of your eventual death!
Psalmist: You really don’t understand it, do you? Things may be tough now, in fact, I know they will probably get much worse in the days ahead, but that doesn’t change the fact that God is, and that he is the judge of all of creation. He sees everything, he knows everything, and he will justly respond to everything, but only in his time.
Antagonist: [mockingly] Oh yes, you’ve said that before, “In his time.” Do you really believe that? Why isn’t his time is ever now? Have you thought about that one? Why doesn’t he ever step in to stop anything? HA! “In his time!” HA!
Psalmist: [after a long pause] Honestly? I don’t know. But what I do know is that he promises to examine everyone; he promises that he sees everyone’s heart and all the actions that come from that heart. And for those wicked who love violent ways, he promises to bring on them a just reward of eternal violence and hell-fire. But to the righteous ones who keep their faith in him he promises eternal safety. Yes, he tests us, but it’s because he values us. It’s sort of like refining gold: it can’t be done unless it is goes through the fire. It may be painful for a bit, maybe even for a life-time, but when the testing is over, like gold, we are better for having gone through his fire.
Antagonist: Again I say it: you are an idiot! That makes no sense. If there were a just God, he would act justly: now! If there were a loving God, he would stop the violence: now! But since there seems to be no justice in this violent world, there must be no such God. The way I see it, you either fight the evil on your own, or you flee to a refuge of your own making: it’s that simple.
Psalmist: In the Lord I take refuge.
How then can you say to me:
“Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”
The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
his eyes examine them.
The Lord examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.
For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
the upright will see his face.