Psalm 25 says “they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.” In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Paris, we may pray other words from the same psalm: “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.”
FACING TREACHERY, AGAIN
Psalm 25 begins with these words:
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;
in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.
Once again the unthinkable has happened. Yet this is the way we now think of the world since 9/11. Another beautiful day ripped apart by the attacks of evil people. Unthinkable. Shameful. Treacherous.
There is a word for this: treachery. But what do you do on the other side of the terrorist’s attack? What can we say in the face of pure treachery?
David knew about treachery. He was terrorized by his enemies, and wrote Psalm 25, a prayer that any of us who are in pain and anguish today could pray:
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;
in you I trust, O my God…. No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame,
but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.
We too have seen “treachery without excuse.” But how can we respond?
The first thing we can do when we face treachery is to refuse to be ashamed or defeated. We can assert a firm moral clarity and say of those who have wantonly destroyed innocent people: shame on you! Shame on you! “They will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.”
The most important thing for us to do is to turn to God. We pray “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul” because there is no one else to whom we can lift up our souls. There is no one else who is “good and upright” as it says in verse 8, “loving and faithful” (verse 10).” Only God can “rescue”; he is our only “refuge” (verse 20).
In Psalm 25 there are three things David asked of God: God, please guide me, please forgive me, and please protect me.
So first, we must ask God to guide us. Verse 5 says “guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” And verse 9 says “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” We desperately need God’s guidance to help us know how to respond wisely. Treachery is not just an issue of international conflicts and terrorist attacks. Treachery happens in our own streets every day. It happens behind the closed doors of homes that seem peaceful, but are the scenes of unreported crimes and other cruelties.
Many people are wondering now what to do with their anger when there is another brutal assault. There are things we can do. Anger is an inbuilt instinct designed to move us to action in the face of danger and injustice. It produces a hot energy. That heat can harm or it can work. It may turn into an anxiety that renders us sleepless or irritable, or mean-spirited. But there is an alternative. The anger you and I experience needs to be transformed into the energy of a driving engine, not the eruption of a volcano.
What we can do is to turn that energy into resolve. Resolve is firm purpose. It is thoughtful, calculated, passionate commitment to a good cause with constructive ends in mind. This is a time to face treachery wherever we find it.
In times like this we can say, “I resolve to stand against treachery in the streets of my city.”
In times like this we can say, “I resolve to advocate civil justice, and to be a citizen of principle.”
In times like this we can say, “I resolve to be an honest and loving spouse and parent.”
In times like this we can say, “I resolve to watch out for my neighbor.”
If ever there was a time to say, “I resolve to be more impassioned to give than to take.”
In times like this we can say, “I resolve to seek God with all my heart.”
In times like this we can say, “I need to find a deeper and true faith in God.”
True faith is the issue for today. We live in an age when people say, “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.” But let’s consider this chilling fact: those terrorists who tie their evil cause to some kind of religion as in 9/11 are acting out of a belief system. They sincerely believe that God would send them straight to heaven at the moment of their treachery.
There is true faith, and there is false faith.
The true God is Love and Truth and Justice. Everything about the true God stands against treachery in any form.
1 John 5:20 says: “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true – even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
Second, we must ask God for forgiveness. In Psalm 25, verse 7 says “remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.”
What? Why pray for forgiveness at a time when you’re a victim? David was being chased down by vicious and shameful enemies. Why should a beaten-up man pray for forgiveness? David did so because he was a very wise man. He knew that—even when he was face to face with treachery—he needed to keep praying a humble prayer of forgiveness because that is the only way to keep your heart soft enough for God to shape it, the only way not to become bitter, or vengeful, or self-righteous, or (worst of all), treacherous.
Third, we must ask God for protection. Verse 21 says “may integrity and uprightness protect me because my hope is in you.” One of the things that many are dealing with right now is fear. We have seen terrifying things and have heard terrifying stories—and we will hear more. David prayed for God’s protection in Psalm 25 because he was afraid:
(beginning with verse 16)
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish.
Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.
See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me!
Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.
If you are struggling with fear right now, it is important to keep a sense of perspective. On a week like this it is like we are taking a telescope and looking at one part of the world where awful things have happened. But this is not just a quick glance in a telescope; it is video tape being rolled through again and again and again. The fact of the matter is, in the real world there is not a bomb on every corner. Thousands of planes take off and land safely every day. One of the great realities of life is called the “common grace” of God. The sun rises every day, the rains water the earth and bring forth the crops we eat, children get on buses and go to school and return home at the end of the day, bankers and teachers and check-out clerks and computer technicians go to work every normal day. Kids play ball outside and the worst thing that happens is a scraped knee. This is the way things are in “the normal.” The abnormal and rare events of treachery put us on alert, and make us more responsible, but no one can ruin, no one can abolish, the common grace of God.
Out of the rubble of tragedies always come opportunities. We need to open our eyes to the many redemptive opportunities that lie ahead in the weeks, months, and years to come.
We have an opportunity whenever we face treachery to be more compassionate toward the rest of the world. In some ways our country since 9/11 joined with people all over the world who suffer at the hands of treachery. If we join with others who suffer, seeking a compassionate understanding of their plight, we will be morally enriched because we will be seeing the world the way God sees the world.
We have an opportunity when we face treachery to act like a more unified country. Wouldn’t it be a blessing if we lost some of our interest in the trivial, and deal with issues that really matter in life? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if multitudes of people realized that their lives will have fuller meaning if they are participants in and promoters of God’s goodness, instead of just trying to make it to their retirement years in comfort.
We have an opportunity when we face treachery to find faith in a deeper way, and to help others who don’t have any idea where to turn spiritually.
We have an opportunity when we face treachery to understand the mission of the church in a deeper way than we have in the past. The Bible does portray this world as a battleground between good and evil. But what are the weapons of such a battle? While national governments now plan how to wage a war on terrorism, the church should remind itself of its universal call to proclaim the heart-changing message of Christ in every corner of the world. If someone could disarm every ill-intentioned person in the world, that would still not bring peace and righteousness. Only God can do that, one person at a time he does that, and we have the immense privilege as the church to be involved in that mission.
Finally, there is this powerful phrase that the Bible repeats again and again: be strong and courageous. Deuteronomy 31:6 says: “Be strong and courageous. The LORD your God will go ahead o you. He will neither fail you nor forsake you.” 1 Chronicles 28:20 says: “Be strong and courageous and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged by the size of the task, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 says: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.”
The cowards who practice treachery want us to feel like victims or to turn us into the monsters that they are. It is up to us whether we let them.
[This message adapted from a message originally given the weekend after 9/11 at Elmbrook Church.]