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Flee Like a Bird?

It is natural when we see a growing threat of evil to think that we should flee to somewhere safe. David in the Psalms is confronted with the same advice.

In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me, “Flee like a bird to the mountains; 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?”

Psalm 11[10]:1-3 RSV2CE

David is responding against someone who is pointing out that the righteous are being targeted by evil forces who have destroyed the foundations of the culture. Therefore, we need to find a safe place to escape and protect ourselves and our families because there is nothing else that can be done in the present situation. Doesn’t that sound like what many are saying today?

David begins by saying that it is the Lord that is his refuge and not some safe place in the mountains, so why should he flee like a frightened bird? David elaborates on this in the following verses:

The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes behold, his eyelids test, the children of men. The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates him that loves violence.

vv. 4-5

God is on his throne and he is aware of all that is going on. He knows the hearts that love him, and he knows all of the secret schemes of those who want to prey on his people. What is God going to do about it?

On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and brimstone; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous, he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.

vv. 6-7

Wow! People look at the political situation and think that nothing can be done, but they don’t take into account the power of God. Salvation history is not a story of the good guys being stronger than the bad guys. It is the story of God stepping in and saving the people who put their trust in him when there is no hope on earth for them to avoid destruction.

Now some people today may see God’s response in this psalm as overly severe. This is because we live in an age that wants acceptance of every point of view except for intolerance. While tolerance has a place in a society of sinners trying to live together, this state is not meant to last forever. At some point, judgment will come, and it is decisive. That is because until then, we are in a time of grace where all will be saved who respond to God’s call for salvation. It will become clear at the judgment that those who refuse God’s loving grace will deserve the punishment that they receive.

Okay then, why doesn’t God do something about this now? He is patient and delays judgment for many reasons. One reason is that God wants to give people time to repent. Many people who may be enemies of God today may convert and turn to God. Some may even become great witnesses for him like St. Paul the Apostle did.

Another reason for delay is to let the present evil come to “full flower,” so to speak. When this happens, the evil of rejecting God may be clearly seen.

What about the danger to me right now? If God is delaying judgment, shouldn’t I flee to protect myself? It is certainly possible that some people should flee persecution so that they can continue to accomplish good in the world in a place of safety. However, we shouldn’t be motivated by fear. Nothing can separate God’s people from his loving protection. Even if God lets us suffer or even die at the hands of evil doers, we can have confidence that such hardship will never reach us unless God in his loving care allows it. The truth is that hardship can be good for us, causing us to draw nearer to God as we seek his protection. Finally, Christians know that death is not the end for us, but instead is the beginning of our joyful reward in glory that will make the greatest trials of this present life seem like nothing in comparison.

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