When The Foundations Are Destroyed

For an athlete, one of the best pieces of advice ever spoken goes something like this: “You can’t control circumstances, but you can control your reaction.” In other words, in a sports game you can’t control the weather, the crowd noise, the official’s terrible calls, or the guy on the third row who found you on facebook and is yelling your girlfriend’s name at top volume. But you can control how well you perform. You can control your reaction to circumstances, but not always the circumstances themselves.

This idea is true in much of life, and it can get pretty somber pretty quickly. For instance, you cannot control the slow death of a loved one. You cannot control whether a sibling makes a wreck out of their life. You cannot control a drunk driver that kills an infant. You cannot control the atrocities committed by genocidal factions all over the world. You cannot control whether your parents love you (or each other). You cannot control whether the very foundations of your life come unraveled.

But you can control the way you react to these circumstances. And more importantly, you can choose what to think about God in light of these things. Will you trust him or hate him? Will you run to him or away from him? Will you see circumstantially, or will you see beyond what is visibly apparent?

David tells us his choice in Psalm 11:1-3. His reaction actually comes before the circumstances are even named:

In the Lord I take refuge;                                                                                                 how can you say to my soul,                                                                                         “Flee like a bird to your mountain,                                                                                    for behold, the wicked bend the bow;                                                                             they have fitted their arrow to the string                                                                               to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;                                                                         if the foundations are destroyed,                                                                                   what can the righteous do?”

The first two lines are David’s words, followed by a quote, presumably from one of David’s trusted councilmen. Understand that this psalm was written while David was on the run from his enemies, uncertain of whether he would live to see the next day. The Bible history narratives about David (1 and 2 Samuel) tell us that circumstances were downright tragic for him at the time this psalm was written. So it is natural that we would see David’s closest advisors telling him it is time to flee once again. “Hit the panic button because your enemies are bearing down on you like never before, King David. Your foundations have been shaken.” But David’s reaction is shocking:

“In the Lord I take refuge.”

In other words, “What do you mean, ‘flee’? I’m perfectly aware of the circumstances beyond my control, thanks! But my reaction is not one of panic and it is not one of fear. My refuge will not be in the mountains. It will be in God.”

WAIT, David. You mean the God who is responsible for your plight and who could put a stop to it at any time, but doesn’t?

Yes. That God. 

And what I find most interesting is that the person being quoted in this passage had all the facts straight. They did not misrepresent or over-exaggerate the situation – The wicked WERE bending their bows. They HAD fitted their arrows to the strings. They DID intend to shoot at the upright in heart. The foundations of David’s life WERE shaken. But their reaction was bad. It was not time to “flee like a bird to the mountains”. It was time to take refuge in the Lord.

Someone piped up, I’m sure, “Well, let’s do it someplace where we don’t have to worry about getting our heads chopped off! We can take refuge in the Lord in the mountains, too, can we not?” But David said, “No, we’ll do it right here.” Because David did not see God through the lens of his circumstances, despite his life’s foundations being rocked.

Everyone reading these words knows what it’s like to have your foundations rocked. A relationship has ended, a loved one died, a person mistreated you, you were dealt a gross injustice. And you, like David, have the option to refuse any comfort except that which comes from the Lord. And just as David’s advisors approached him with correct knowledge of the situation but a faulty conclusion (“the wicked are on us, so let’s run”), people will come to you with a right understanding of your plight but a bad conclusion about what to do about it. “You’re in pain because your mom died, so let’s drink to forget.” “You just lost your girlfriend, so go sleep with someone asap.” “You’ve been ignored by every male in your life, so dress to draw attention.” Any one of these life events would be foundation-quaking to us. But we have the opportunity to make a choice about our reaction.

For David, the answer (verse 1) comes before the question (verse 3). If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

Take refuge in the Lord. That’s what.


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