Psalm 11 - What can the righteous do?

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To the leader. Of David.
1) In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me,
"Flee like a bird to the mountains;
2) for look, the wicked bend the bow,
they have fitted their arrow to the string,
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.
3) If the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?"

4) The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven.
His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind.
5) The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
and his soul hates the lover of violence.
6) On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur;
a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
7) For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.

Psalm 11
Not included in the Revised Common Lectionary.

When you are under threat, there are three basic survival reactions: fight, flight, or freeze, and each of these relates to a strategy. In mass shooter training, participants are often told to use one of these strategies, based on the situation as they know it. Run away if possible, since it it offers the best chance, if you can escape the immediate threat. If you can't escape, hide. And if you can't hide or are discovered, fight.[1]

Here, once again, the person praying this psalm is in danger. We don't know their precise circumstances. But we do know they have ruled out flight. "In the Lord I take refuge..."

It may be that they have no other options. That is, in fact, what drives many to turn to God. They've tried to solve the problem themselves. They've turned to friends, borrowed money, called in every favor and burned every bridge.

"If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?"

When the psalm says "the righteous," we should probably understand it as "I," or "we." The psalms do not really ask abstract questions. When all we've relied on has failed, or is no more, what can we do, to whom can we turn?

We have nowhere else to go.

[The Lord's] eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind. The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence.

We do well to examine and test ourselves before we pray for a rain of fire and a scorching wind upon the wicked. In particular, let us note the Lord's hatred for those who love violence. It is a jarring juxaposition that this prayer knows that God hates violence, and yet hopes for, or at least recognizes, violent punishment.

When you are between a rock and a hard place, when there seems to be no good option...

    What can the righteous do?...In the Lord I take refuge.
Lt. Paul A. Garcia, Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Public domain, U.S. Coast Guard photo.
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

"Best practices" about active shooter situations are continually evolving. This should not be considered advice or a substitute for training.


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