by Ramesh Richard
Current mood around our world? Gloom and doom. News agencies simply save and use headlines from each global crisis:
• “Turmoil takes toll”
• “Grim data add to worries over global growth”
• “Concern over the world economy drives panic”
• “Markets suffer global flight”—or should that have read “fright” since there is no “where” to fly to?
Somebody said, “If you go to the sports pages first, you are sports-minded; skim business pages first, you are money-minded; but go to the front pages first, you’ll lose whatever mind you once had!” Nobody is going to any other news than the front pages … we are losing it, or so it feels.
People shaken to the core experience fear and anxiety. Perpetuators of human co-dependency—economic, health and political systems—have significantly failed humanity. Their leaders are not feeling very well and we look the world over for sources of stability. Our search for steadiness marks the human quest, but also the human propensity to manufacture idols and illusions for personal solace.
“Only gold is divine,” read an ad by the World Gold Council during our last global crisis, calling people to buy gold regardless of its price. It might go up by 250% or more in 2020. Why? Gold is considered the ultimate safe-asset during financial mayhem. When gold records historical highs, investors seek “solace in the bullion,” says another adviser. Gold has become an idolatrous option—along with a hundred man-made deities.
Facing ominous portents, people are rushing to safe-havens, i.e., perceived safe-havens. We need some gods around this place to provide stability, solace and security. There are no saviors in the emerging markets, one investment strategist wrote, “but gold may be a shelter from the storm today.”
We attribute divine powers to objects, concepts and systems we create, though they have no intrinsic value. Gold, for example, has no debt, but has no industrial use either. One said, “The only reason everyone is piling into it is because of the perverse logic that everyone is piling into it!” Everyone has done this for 6,000 years, way beyond their lifetimes!
And yet, we all need a safe-haven, perceived or not. With the pandemic, we can’t find that safe-haven inside human creations or in personal connections because all of them are dependent on, subject to and operate inside a closed human system. And as demand for them goes up, their price goes up, too.
Can this closed system be opened up, where everyone can possess a safe-haven in a shaken world? Where price and supply are not affected by demand? Should we go on exhibiting stupidity and invite further shaking when we give ultimate status to perceived safe-havens?
“The sorrows of those who have bartered for other gods will be multiplied,” says the psalmist (Psalm 16:4). Our world has bartered its shaking soul for perceived gods. Indeed, our sorrows have multiplied. Billions of individuals are living in multiplied sorrows and complex struggles, which cumulatively add to global shuddering, human trembling, personal quaking.
In Psalm 16, the psalmist presents an alternate mood for the human situation, where the price doesn’t go up when demand goes up. He claims to possess the ultimate safe-haven, the only stable reality in a shaken world. “Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken,” (v. 8), he declares. “My flesh will dwell securely” (v. 9).
Briefly consider this psalm of confidence with me—one that could well be read at my funeral and yours. The psalmist claims a personal relationship with the ultimate, absolute, sovereign One, who is his exclusive safe-haven in life and beyond. Nothing else comes close in providing for his earthly good and eventual destiny.
He first requests the preservation of his life, for he takes refuge in God (v. 1). His security, stability and solace are in the Lord as his personal safe-haven (v. 2a). God in Himself, not just what He can give or do, is his earthly good (v. 2b).
Next, he delights in those who pledge exclusive allegiance to this unique God, the ultimate LORD—the One to personally trust for our earthly good as our current possession (vs. 5-6); our ever-present counselor (vs. 7-8); our permanent security and our pleasant solace in life and beyond (vs. 9-11).
However, he scorns those who “bet” on other gods to deliver them. Syncretists diminish the true God and downgrade the absolute LORD by bartering with junior, relative, perceived gods as their safe-havens. During severe moments like these, we might be tempted to spread our eternal risks, to diversify our deity-portfolio, to bet on many gods, like people do at horse races.
During personal shaking, the real object of our trust, delight and hope is revealed. God doesn’t want to share our trust with alternate, substitute candidates for deity. In fact, at this horrific time everywhere, God is claiming His rights over humanity and is calling us to Him through the common experience of emotional vertigo. Crises, personal and global, physical and political, social and financial, especially facing the specter of life and death, reveal the exclusive object of our trust.
A verse in an old hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” sums up the Psalm:
“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes:
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!”
I have tested the thesis of the psalmist as true and alive in early 21st century existence. I sensed its truth in Haiti, literally a broken and shaken land, more so since 2010 when 250,000 people were killed and 1.3 million people rendered homeless. We have heard 250,000 as the number thrown around in U.S. public briefings as the coronavirus reaches peak during Passion Week.
Personally, I met Haitians who have made the LORD their refuge. I found an indescribable resilience in the middle of appalling suffering. I wondered why they hadn’t given up their trust in God. They thought that the shaking disaster made them give up their trust in everything else except the LORD!
One pastor said, “God is never absent,” which sounded like the psalmist’s “I have set the LORD continually before me” (vs. 8).
They sang, “God is still on the throne, and He will never forsake His own,” and I recalled the Psalm’s “I take refuge in You, I have no good besides You” (vs. 1-3).
Another noted, “God is arranging everything present and future,” which connected me to the psalmist’s “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol” (v. 10).
Apostles Peter and Paul use Psalm 16:10 to refer to the Lord Jesus and His unique resurrection—which we will commemorate on Sunday. That event made Jesus singularly worthy of the same exclusive and exuberant trust reserved for the God-LORD of the Old Testament.
For if we need no longer be afraid of death because of Jesus’ resurrection, Haitian believers will argue, all other anxieties lose their dread. The psalmist too starts from the end: “If I don’t fear the ultimate threat of death, the plausible consequence of all crises, there’s nothing before death that is going to shake me and break me.”
So, dear “saints and majestic ones,” (cf. v. 3), you who consider God as the ultimate safe-haven, here are a couple of personal “apps.”
1. Refuse the temptation to distribute your trust and worship to a watered-down God in your life at this time. God would want you to be personally grateful and practically careful, but not become a doubtful and fearful worrier who trusts deficient objects of refuge and shelter. You don’t want to multiply your sorrows, do you?
2. God doesn’t want a passive, fatalistic trust in Him, as though He were a mere idea, a rule of law, a brute force or an abstract principle. God seeks an enthusiastic and extravagant confidence in Him as your safe-haven in a shaking reality. God is the only stable factor in life … and in death; the Certain One in uncertain times.
Haitian believers reinforced the themes of this Psalm to me not as slogans but as convictions: “when all we have is God, we realize He is all we need.” Fortunately, global demand for Him doesn’t drive up His price. The Savior of the world is also our shelter in the time of storm, a true shelter-in-place for us. Believers who don’t compromise what/whom they trust will find Him right at hand at their right hand. They will not be shaken (v. 8). Their hearts will be glad; their glory will rejoice; their flesh will dwell securely (v. 9). They will experience God’s way of life; the path of the full life; the granting of the joy of God’s presence, and the pleasures of living with Him forever (v. 11).