“The Lord is for me; I will not be afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me? The Lord is my helper; therefore, I will look in triumph on those who hate me.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What is it that motivates you to courage? Is there anything in particular? Some people seem to have a natural bent toward courage. Some, not so much. But all of us have something we are willing to fight to protect. It may be something genuinely worth protecting, or we may have our priorities wildly out of balance, but we all have that thing. One of the great challenges of our life is to find that protective spirit, that willingness to put ourselves on the line for what we believe is right, harness it, and have it ready to call upon in a variety of different situations. What the psalmist offers us right here is something that can inspire courage in us no matter what our situation may be. Let’s talk about what it is and why it matters.
Perhaps the thing that is most challenging about being courageous is the thought that we could put ourselves out there and fail. And the reason we might fail is that we’re standing on our own. We love watching movies featuring someone who has become totally isolated only to stand up against some evil force all alone. I think about the scene just before the amazing entrance of everybody in Avengers: End Game. Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor have all been going toe-to-toe against Thanos and it’s not going well. In spite of their best efforts, he is simply stronger, more powerful, and a better fighter than the trio of heroes combined. In that moment, the camera zeroes in on Captain America all by himself. Knowing how utterly hopeless their situation is, he nonetheless straps on the remaining half of his shield and prepares to go another round, embodying the spirit of courage that had animated his character from his first introduction nine years before – “I could do this all day.”
That is our picture of courage. And rightly so. His willingness to stand against evil and to do the right thing no matter the cost is inspiring. It should be. But it’s also terrifying. That’s Captain America. Of course he can do that kind of thing. He’s a superhero. He’s got super strength and super agility and super reflexes and super everything. We can’t do that kind of thing. When the world stands up to punch us in the face – or better yet, to punch someone we love in the face – what can we meaningfully do about it? If we punch back, we’re going to get pounded. We can’t fight the world on our own. Cap wasn’t ever going to beat Thanos on his own.
And then his radio crackles, and Falcon’s voice – the very Falcon who had vanished in the blip five years before – delivers what is perhaps the most exciting line of the film: “On your six, Cap.” Suddenly portals begin opening by the hundreds and everyone else – I mean everyone else – joins the fight. Every hero who had ever been in every MCU movie to that point along with all the forces they commanded pours onto the battlefield, and the rest is cinematic history.
But that’s a movie! It may be the greatest movie moment of all time (prove me wrong; I would rank it above even the reappearance of the Apollo 11 capsule at the end of that movie which, for me, is saying a lot), but it’s a movie. When we’re in that moment of crisis when courage is the only response and yet also the one that is hardest to muster, we are not going to suddenly have portals opening all around us as a huge army rushes into the moment to have our back and help us win.
And, no, that’s completely true. We aren’t going to experience something quite like that. But what the psalmist writes here suggests the actual truth isn’t quite so far off from that as we might think. If you are a follower of Jesus, when you are in those moments that demand courage, you are not ever alone. In those moments you can be absolutely confident in the fact that God in Christ has your back. That is, the God who created the universe and everything in it including you and your opponent, is on your side.
The psalmist here unpacks this idea with a question and a conclusion that we dare not miss. First the question. What can a mere mortal do to me? If the immortal God of the universe has your back; if the Creator of all things is on your side, what can something He created really do to you? If the God who is the author of life and death is supporting your cause to stand firm in your faithfulness to His commands, what threats against even your very life have any real substance to them? The answer to all of these questions is nothing. If your faithfulness to His commands costs you your life, He’s already promised to give you a new one. He has the power and ability and motivation to restore to you anything you might lose in pursuit of obedience. If you want evidence of that, just look to Job. He lost everything in pursuit of faithfulness and God restored all of it. There is nothing tangible or intangible the world can take from you in its efforts to bully you into submission that God can’t replace and restore. You can stand firm with unshakable courage when the fight comes to your doorstep because your opponent has no power. Your God – who is for you – has all of it.
Because of this, the psalmist draws a conclusion. Really, this is the only conclusion that makes any sense. I will look in triumph on those who hate me. There’s a great line in the movie Field of Dreams when Kevin Costner’s character is talking to Dr. Archie Graham, one of the players he was helping, about how he always wanted the chance to stand at the plate against a major league pitcher and wink at him just before he throws as if he knows something the pitcher doesn’t know. Right near the end of the film, of course, he gets that chance. The idea is that in the face of this incredible challenge, he knows he’s going to get a hit and wants the pitcher to know it too. The interaction in the moment between his younger ghost self and the grizzled veteran ghost pitcher is hysterical. It also gives us a bit of a picture of what the psalmist is talking about here.
This isn’t some mere whistling past the graveyard. He’s talking about staring evil in the face with a confident twinkle in his eye because he already knows the outcome of the fight. He wins. When we go up against the forces of this world regardless of the particular form they happen to take, we can look on them in triumph because when we are choosing faithfulness to our God, our victory is already won. And while we often picture these as big, climactic confrontations, sometimes they are entirely more intimate than that. It may be a subtle offer to get in on some scheme or another. It could be an invitation to a bit of seemingly innocent cruelty for the sake of being a part of the insider club. It might be simply an internal battle to prioritize ourselves over someone we love. Whatever it happens to be, if we stand with the One who stands with us, there is no battle to be had. The fight is over before it begins. We can look on them in triumph because the Lord is our helper.
Listen, you are going to have a chance to do something with this today. I don’t know what it’s going to be. You probably don’t know yet what it’s going to be. You might recognize the situation when it falls in your lap, but you might not realize what’s going on until you’re already neck-deep in it. But you are going to experience an opportunity to choose faithfulness today over folly. It won’t be easy. You’ll be sorely tempted to just give in for the sake of what is made to look like peace. Stand firm. The Lord is for you. You don’t have to be afraid. Mere mortals can’t do anything to you. The Lord is your helper. Therefore, you can look in triumph on those who hate you. I hope you will. You’ll be glad you did.