“When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Do you ever remember feeling invincible? I remember being at one of my sister’s softball games when we were growing up. I wasn’t actually watching the game, but the softball complex she played at was in a wonderfully wooded area with several of the big limestone boulders that are so common to that part of the country, and which make fantastic natural playgrounds. On this particular day, I was jumping from the top of one boulder to the other – in flip-flops, no less – and landing my jumps perfectly every single time. I felt like I could do anything on that day. But while those kinds of experiences are fun, if we’re being honest, they tend to be the exception to the rule. And the rule is that on most days we not only don’t feel invincible, we feel downright defeated. We carry a ton of fear of what the day might bring and who might be bringing it. As normal as that kind of feeling is, though, it’s not how life was designed to be lived. Let’s talk this morning about how to get rid of fear and live with the kind of confidence a ten-year-old boy lost in a fantasy playground has in spades.
While we don’t know the circumstances of very many of the Psalms in the Bible, there are a few that have some helpful editorial notes for us. This is one of them. When you look at Psalm 56 in your Bible, in the chicken scratch just before verse 1 you’ll find three pieces of information. First, it was written to be sung to the tune of “A Silent Dove Far Away.” That doesn’t mean anything to us, but for ancient Israelites, it gave them the basic melody to be able to sing this in worship. The second note is that this is a mitkam of David. We don’t know what that means. The third note, though, is important. It tells us David wrote this one “when the Philistines seized him in Gath.”
After David was anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel, his life was not easy. As he rose to national prominence and popularity on the back of his famous military exploits (beginning with his killing of Goliath), Saul grew more and more envious of him and jealous for his throne. Eventually, this all boiled over into multiple efforts to assassinate David, and finally Saul’s naming him public enemy number one. David took the men who were loyal to him and fled into the countryside. From there, the chase was on. Everywhere David went, Saul followed and took a pretty scorched-earth approach as he did.
This was a bad situation, to be sure, but it got really serious for David when he fled to a worship center in Nob to get some help from the priests there who were not yet clued in on the political scene. They cluelessly helped him but paid for it when Saul had the whole lot of them slaughtered for aiding and abetting an enemy of the state. David finally realized just how insanely paranoid Saul was and fled the country altogether. He went to the land of the Philistines, hoping to simply blend in. It didn’t work. He was quickly recognized as the slayer of Goliath and the commander who had slaughtered huge numbers of Philistines on behalf of their enemies in Israel.
Whereas things were bad before, now they were awful. David was truly caught between a rock and a hard place. He couldn’t go back to Israel because Saul was set on destroying him. But neither could he stay in Philistia now because they were likely to kill him as well. David was now living in enemy territory. One wrong move could cost not only him his own life, but all of his men and their families their lives too. We know from the story that David handled this by humiliating himself. He began acting like he was insane so the Philistine King Achish wouldn’t consider him a threat worth his time and attention. It worked, but barely.
It was in this dark place that David wrote a prayer to God for help. He prayed for protection and for God’s action against his enemies. This wasn’t just a cry for help, though. It was also a statement of his confidence in God. In the midst of his fear – and David had plenty of which to be fearful in his current situation – he was not going to try to trust in himself or what he could accomplish. He was going to place his trust in God. He makes this bold statement of trust and roots it in God’s word. There’s a lesson for us there. If we want to grow our trust in the Lord, the best way to do that is to deepen our understanding of His word. God’s word reveals His character, and the more and better we know His character, the more and better we will trust in Him because He is worthy of that trust.
David makes this bold statement of trust, but then follows it up with a haunting question: “What can mere mortals do to me?” Now, if you think too much about this question, it can get pretty uncomfortable pretty quickly. After all, if we’re being honest, we can think of all kinds of terrible things “mere mortals” could do to us. I mean, North Korea’s dictator once had a government official who fell out of favor shot with an anti-aircraft gun. I’d generally like to try to avoid being shot with an anti-aircraft gun if I can help it. Sure, it wouldn’t hurt very long, but the principle of the thing is a little disconcerting. The point is that people can do all kinds of things to us. The extent of the list is only limited by the imagination which is a pretty scary thing because some people have really good imaginations when it comes to hurting others. How are we to trust in God in the face of this? How are we to trust Him no matter what?
David doesn’t actually give us the answer to this question in the psalm. But through the lens of Christ, we have an answer he could have only anticipated. We can trust in God when we are afraid and don’t have to fear anything that might happen to us in this life because we aren’t living for this life. We are living for the next. And the thing about the next is that it will be perfect and last forever. If things don’t go our way here (this assumes the not going our way is not the result of sinful choices we have made; in that case it’s our own fault), we don’t have to worry about it. There’s another life to follow in which everything wrong with this one is going to be made right.
Now, this doesn’t mean we are invincible. We still have to act with wisdom. There’s no point in looking for trouble wherever we can find it. That’s just silly. But we don’t have to be afraid of it. With this eternal frame of reference in place, we can go through our lives with confidence in the God who will safely deliver us to our heavenly home when the time is right. And by safely, I don’t mean nothing will happen to us in this life. It might. And it might be awful. The ancient church father Tertullian once quipped that the seed of the church is the blood of the martyrs. In the 20th century alone, somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 believers lost their lives because of their faith every year. If we are trying to have confidence in this life rooted in some worldly definition of safety, we are going to be tragically disappointed.
By safely, I mean that when the day comes, God will raise us up and give us resurrection bodies that will not wear out or suffer harm anymore. We should do everything we can to take care of the body we have now and to avoid trouble wherever that’s possible, but never at the expense of our faithfulness to Christ. There’s a life following this one and no mere mortal can do anything to us that will affect it in any way. So, as you go through your life today, root your confidence in Jesus and live without fear. There’s no reason for it.