"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"When the foundations are being destroyed" or, The Dangers of Plucking an Individual Verse

On my way home from work today, I was listening to a local Christian radio station.  Between a wonderfully sappy, pitch-perfect chorus jingle announcing the station (I really do love those; must be the nostalgia) and the start of whatever program was coming on next, there was a short commentary.  It was one of those 'Today's Bible Minute with Bob' type things, and it started out with this verse:

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? ~ Psalm 11:3

I had a suspicion about what was coming next, and I was right.  There followed a brief lecture about how society's changing definition of marriage threatened to erode the millennia old foundation established by God in the beginning.  It was predictable in its simplicity (there is not much room for nuance in a one minute commentary, after all), essentially a 'Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it' approach.  The closing words of the commentator were, "That's God's definition of marriage -- and He's stickin' to it!"

The thing that struck me most, however, was not the futility of attempting to say much of value about such a complex and controversial topic in a one minute commentary.  Rather, it was the use of the opening verse of Scripture.  If the commentator's persuasiveness was not precarious enough already, he set the tone by taking a single verse completely out of context for his purposes.  Here is the eleventh Psalm in its entirety:

In the LORD have I taken refuge;
   how then can you say to me,
   "Fly away like a bird to the hilltop;

For see how the wicked bend the bow
and fit their arrows to the string,
   to shoot from ambush at the true of heart.

When the foundations are being destroyed,
   what can the righteous do?" 

The LORD is in his holy temple;
   the LORD's throne is in heaven.

His eyes behold the inhabited world;
   his piercing eye weighs our worth.

The LORD weighs the righteous as well as the wicked,
   but those who delight in violence he abhors.

Upon the wicked he shall reign coals of fire and
                                 burning sulfur;
   a scorching wind shall be their lot.

For the LORD is righteous;
he delights in righteous deeds;
   and the just shall see his face.

Notice who it is that is bewailing the destruction of the foundations.*  It is not the Psalmist, but rather one to whom the Psalmist is directing his rebuke:  How then can you say to me, "Fly away like a bird ... the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?"  The Psalmist, by contrast, does not panic, because he has taken refuge in the LORD.  The remainder of the Psalm is in witness of God's power, His omniscience, His unassailable throne, and His ultimate judgement; and the just shall see His face.  So, what should the righteous do?  Become a culture warrior and use the democratic process to shore up the foundation of traditional American values?  Say rather, rest secure in the refuge that is our God, confident in the knowledge that He is our true foundation, and the only righteous Judge.

Peace of Christ.

* To clarify, I don't wish to imply that I think foundations are unimportant.  On the contrary, I think it is very important that we understand where we are, how we have arrived here, the beliefs upon which our assumptions are based, etc.  My contention is, rather, with the misapplication of this verse, which causes me to questions the spiritual wisdom of those who would use it in this way.

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