God Sees Everything
Life is full of choices – what to wear today, where to go, what to eat, who to talk to …
Some of our choices are trivial, some are significant.
And one of the things that marks the difference between the trivial and the significant is the moral implications of our choices. Behind our moment by moment decisions is the bigger decision to do the right thing or the wrong thing.
And there are plenty of times when doing the right thing will be relatively easy and uncontroversial, but sometimes doing the right thing means doing the hard thing, the unpopular thing, even the dangerous thing. You're at work on the weekend and your team leader tells your team to exaggerate your start and finish times on the overtime claim form. Do you insist on telling the truth even thought everyone's going to loose money? You're with friends and someone starts sniggering about a Christian who's a thirty year old virgin. Do you dare to admit you think they're right, or that you're waiting for marriage? You're out with friends and someone pulls out some pills and says 'want to try it?' When everyone else is doing it, can you say no? We run into situations like that all the time don't we? Maybe not those exact scenarios, but times when the choice is clearly between doing the right thing and joining in with the crowd; between standing up for God and keeping your head down and staying out of trouble.
When we're faced with that sort of situation the choice we're ultimately making is between trusting God and trusting our own judgement of the situation. And that is the situation that Psalm 11 addresses. In the Psalm David wrestles with the temptation to keep his head down and avoid doing the right thing. In his situation the pressure he faces goes beyond just peer pressure, he's physically in danger. We don't often face that sort of pressure – though some of us might – but if we follow his line of reasoning we can see the arguments that keep him faithful, and if we're willing to follow his reasoning we can remain faithful too.
So I want to look at the Psalm under two main headings.
And those headings are:
One: We will often have good reasons not to trust in God; and
Two: We will always have better reasons to hold onto our trust in God
These two points roughly correspond to the two halves of the Psalm. The first three verses focus our attention on the reasons that speak against faith in God, so let's start there.
Point One: We will often have good reasons not to trust in God;
Look with me at verse One:
Psalm 11:1 For the director of music. Of David. In the LORD I take refuge. How then can you say to me: "Flee like a bird to your mountain. 2 For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. 3 When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?"
David doesn't tell us the specific details of his situation here. But he makes clear that the choice he faces is between trusting in – or taking refuge in – God on the one hand, and keeping his head down and getting out of there on the other.
And in his moment of decision he has rather unhelpful voices telling him all the reasons why trusting in God is a bad idea. These could be his political advisors or his friends, or it could even be the doubts inside his own head.
Wherever these voices come from their message is very clear – there are very good reasons why David should forget all about standing up for God and what's right and just get out of there. Look with me at verse 1 again:
In the LORD I take refuge. How then can you say to me: "Flee like a bird to your mountain
There's the conclusion – they're saying 'get out of there; don't even think about standing up for God'. And they have good reason for this advice, look at verse 2:
2 For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.
Who ever the doubters are, they make a strong case – standing for God here put's David in danger. There are wicked men out there, enemies who take aim at him from the dark. They plot in secret and they have a long reach, long enough to get at him without being seen. And their finger is on the button, they're squeezing the trigger… 'they're about to shoot David'.
We know about political assassinations – wherever there's power there's danger. You just have to come in the mornings and read 2 Kings to see that Israel had plotters and assassins and spin doctors and political operatives; men and women who would kill their own brothers and sisters, their own families to take the throne. Of course 2 Kings does come after David, but things weren't any different in his day – he had plenty of enemies who wanted him dead. In this instance he may or may not have known who they were and what they were plotting, but he was sure they're out there coming for him.
So their first argument is: it's dangerous – you'll put yourself in the sights of the wicked, and they'll destroy you.
And their second argument is in verse 3: it's a pointless fight anyway.
3 When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?"
If power and authority lies on the side of the wicked, then what can you really achieve? 'What good would it do David, to throw away your life over this? You can't win, and even if you do it won't make any difference.'
There's a very current feel about this isn't there? We worry that our society is being undermined from the foundations – and politicians and the media and big business are working against us. The current's all running one way, what can we do to stand against the tide? Even if we make our little stands for good, what difference will it make? So we feel hopeless to do anything about it.
While our situation might not be as dangerous as David's, we stand to loose if we step out of line with everyone else. At the very least we mark ourselves out for criticism; we step outside of the norm. We might loose friends; we might make our lives uncomfortable. In some situations the stakes will be higher – we might find ourselves fighting to save our jobs, even facing persecution and danger.
If we were to tote these things up on a ledger – you know reasons not to stand up for God, not to put our necks out in this situation – these would be pretty compelling reasons. Risk of sudden death from violent enemies; putting yourself on the wrong side of public opinion and possibly the rule of law; and the certainty that it will be wasted effort in a lost cause – those are fairly big negatives. Those are pretty compelling arguments.
But do you know before we even move on to the rest of the Psalm it's worth noting that these reasons, as strong as they are, aren't as strong as they appear. These are arguments from consequences – if you do that then bad things will happen to you.
But we can't ever know in advance the consequences of our actions. How many times have you started a conversation certain that it would lead to an argument, (you'd been rehearsing it in your head, certain that they'd disagree with you) only to find that the other person agrees with you… things that look hopeless sometimes aren't, sometimes all that's needed to change a situation is one person to speak out against it – like the kid in the story of the Emperor's new clothes, we all knew it, we were just afraid to say it!
And more than that these arguments forget that God's involved – and he isn't overpowered, or taken by surprise, he doesn't miss anything, he leaves no good deed unrewarded, no wickedness unpunished. But that's taking us into our second point.
Before we get there let's come back to our situation: In our day to day we're confronted with the same sort of decisions and we have to deal with the same fears and anxieties. We don't often face assassination, but we're more easily frightened aren't we. I can't say I'm a Christian because people will laugh at me. I can't oppose that dodgy sex education material being used at school 'cause I'll loose my job. If I tell the blokes in the office that I'd rather not hear all their dirty jokes they'll stop talking to me.
We assume that we know what the consequences will be – they'll be bad! And we assume that we won't make any difference anyway. If I stick my head above the parapets I'll get shot down, and it won't achieve anything, they'll just tell the dirty jokes to someone else, they'll keep teaching the dodgy material, but I won't be there to help pick up the pieces afterwards.
We know that voice David's hearing – we've got one just like it inside our own heads. It fills us with anxiety and it exaggerates the risks we face in sticking up for God.
But even though the risks are exaggerated, they're often real enough. If we're going to stand up for the truth in a world that hates the truth, if we're going to name sin and say it's wrong to a bunch of people who do it, then of course we're going to face opposition, rejection, ridicule, perhaps much worse. Jesus was hated in his day and he promised that we'd be hated for following him. Our fears exaggerate the risks, but there are genuine reasons for fear.
But here's the thing, the thing that David had to keep coming back to, the thing that he encourages us to come back to – for all the good reasons we have not to trust in God, we will always have better reasons to hold onto our trust in God. That's my second point, the argument David comes back to in the second half of the Psalm:
Point Two: We will always have better reasons to hold onto our trust in God
Have a look with me at verse 4:
4 The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them. 5 The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates. 6 On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulphur; a scorching wind will be their lot. 7 For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.
Did you notice that shift that's taken place with this verse? He's not now thinking about the things that people have said, about the reasons he has to keep his head down and keep quiet; but he's now thinking about the reasons he has for trusting God. And what does he come up with?
Verse 4: Because the Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne. That is, because God rules, he sits on the throne that exercises supreme power, the power above which there is no other. And because God is near, he dwells in his temple – he isn't so far removed from David's situation that he won't be able to help him, he's right there with him.
For those who love big words God's both transcendent and immanent – he is over both David and his enemies, the supreme power in the universe; and he's close by, accessible, not far off.
But even more than that David knows that God is involved in his situation – he doesn't wait for men to come to him in his temple, but he's always watching over them – like the all seeing eye in the Lord of the Rings, except not looking out of evil intent, but out of love and goodness.
And God's look is purposeful – David says he 'examines' the sons of men. There's a big difference between just looking and examining. I went to the Glendale show on Monday – you know rural show, cattle and horses and sheep and all that. I walked past dozens of sheep and bulls and horses. Prize winning animals. And I had a look, they were impressive enough. But I couldn't tell you which ones were worthy of the prize and which ones weren't. I barely cast my eye over them. I looked, but the judges examined them. They looked closely enough to expose the hidden flaws, to make judgements. And that's how God watches us. He looks intently, he's looking to see the real us, the hidden us, the inner us. His eye tests us to see what we're really made of.
And here's another thing – that is particularly the case for the righteous – verse 5 'he examines the righteous'. In all the circumstances of life our character is tested – but it's in the tough times that it's really exposed. It's easy to do the right thing when everyone else is doing it. But when it's hard, that's when our true selves are revealed. The way we respond to testing shows our hearts. God examines us; he tests and tries us to see if we are faithful.
But the image here is more than just judging, because as well as testing, this sort of examining also strengthens. David is alluding to the way metal was examined, or tested, by fire. In his time you established the purity of precious metals by fire –they were melted down so that impurities would float to the top. The fire, the test, proved the purity of the metal. But once the impurities float to the top they can be skimmed off, leaving a purer metal. The test doesn't just reveal the dross, it also removes it.
So it is with God – his testing doesn't just reveal our character, but it's designed to strengthen our faith. Remember 1 Peter 1:6-7:
6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
So for all that we fear the consequences of doing the right thing, we have here a much more significant consequence to think about. God is watching to see how we respond, and he wants to use this test as an opportunity to purify us, to prove our faith and to make it strong. We don't know how people will respond when we stand up for what we believe in, but we do know how God will respond.
And that's not just true if we're faithful, because we also know how God responds if we're consistently unfaithful. If we're in the habit of rejecting God and trusting in our own resources – and that is what wickedness is, rejecting the way of God and deciding that there is a better route to the things that we want – then we are no longer just tested, but we fall into God's wrath.
Look at verses 6:
6 On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulphur; a scorching wind will be their lot. 7 For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.
God will rain judgement on the heads of the wicked. That may sound harsh to our modern ears. We can be tempted to water this down. But we're not given much room for interpretation here. David alludes to the great examples of God's judgement in the OT – the flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Rain wiped the face of the earth clean in Noah's flood, and fire rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah and wiped them off the face of the earth. These were real events in history, people going about their daily lives met with violent ends. And the Bible assures us that was God's deliberate judgement on them – and it's just a foretaste of the judgment that is coming.
How different things turn out for those who pass the test, for the righteous. Those who endure testing without loosing faith will see God's face – that's a Hebrew way of saying we'll have free access to God. Remember the women of ancient Israel wore a veil over their faces in public. They couldn't show their face to any old stranger. But at home, with close friends and family they could take off the veil and talk face to face. So it is with God – He's hidden from us now, but in heaven we'll see him as he is.
Do you see what this all amounts to? David says that in those situations where we're tempted to keep quite and avoid the consequences we're effectively doing a cost benefit analysis. Or to put it in Jesus' terms, we're counting the cost of following him. We're weighing up the pros and the cons, the good and the bad. But we easily get the calculations wrong.
What David holds onto is that the good far, far outweighs the bad. For all the fears in our heads there is one set of consequences that really matters, only one person who's approval really matters. God's judgement is the important one, and our eternal end is far more important than any friendship, than any job, even than life itself.
And the thing is it's easy to see it when we put it like that, but most of the time when we're in a tricky situation we struggle to maintain this perspective. We're like those pictures where something small is held close to the camera so that it looks much bigger than it is. I'm sure you know what I mean - you go travelling and you come home with a bunch of photos of yourself 'holding' the Eiffel tower between your fingers, or leaning against the tower of Pisa. It's easy to make those massive things look small; we just need to get far enough away from them.
And isn't that the case in our day to day trials? We're so close to them that they look massive. And eternity feels so far away from that it shrinks in our minds; that's why this is such an important reminder for us. We need to take another look and to sort out the really important consequences from the trivial. God's judgment easily becomes small in our eyes, the risks we face in the here and now become enormous. But don't be fooled, it's just a trick of the eye. If we could stand back for just a second we'd see it instantly – there's nothing we could loose that would spoil seeing God face to face, nothing we could sacrifice that wouldn't be worth it.
While we were away I was reminded of the story of Jim Elliot. He was a missionary to South America who was killed before he ever saw a single convert. He died young before he'd had a chance to do anything. But his legacy was written in his diary. He wrote 'he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot loose'.
David says the very same thing here in Psalm 11. It may look foolish to trust in God when the odds are stacked against us. It may indeed cost David his life. But there are more important things. He aims to be found true by the one who's eye examines him. His aim is to receive the reward of knowing God and seeing him face to face.
And you and I will have to make that same choice, time, after time after time. Life if full of choices. And time after time after time we need the help of this great truth – God is bigger than all our fears. He is watching us and he cares for us, even strengthens us to stand in the trial and in following him there is reward so great that all of our fears shrivel into insignificance.