The Upright Place Their Trust in God
We continue our reflection on the texts of the psalms, which constitute an essential element of the Liturgy of the Hours’ evening prayer. Psalm 11, which we just heard and which still resounds in our hearts, is a short prayer of trust where God's sacred name “Adonai,” the Lord, is repeated throughout the original Hebrew text. This name is heard at the beginning of the psalm (see verse 1), is found three times in the middle of the psalm (see verses 4-5) and appears again at the end (see verse 7).
The spiritual tone of the entire song is aptly expressed in the concluding verse: “The Lord is just and loves just deeds.” This is the root of all trust and the source of all hope in days of darkness and trial. God is not indifferent regarding good and evil; he is a good God, not some obscure, unintelligible and mysterious fate.
Attack of the Evil One
The psalm develops essentially in two scenes. The first scene (see verses 1-3) describes the wicked man in his apparent triumph. He is portrayed with images drawn from a war or a hunt: He is the perverse man who aims his bow — whether for war or for hunting — in order to fiercely strike his victim, in this case the upright man (see verse 2). For this reason, the upright man entertains the thought of fleeing in order to be free from such an implacable foe. He would like to “flee like a bird to the mountains” (verse 1), far from this cesspool of evil, the siege of the wicked and the malicious taunts of sinners.
The upright man feels a sort of discouragement, loneliness and impotence as he faces this onslaught of evil. It seems to him as though the foundations of a just social order have been shaken and the very basis of human coexistence has been undermined (see verse 3).
Then there is a turning point, which is described in the second scene (see verses 4-7). The Lord, seated on his heavenly throne, embraces all of mankind with his penetrating gaze. From his transcendent post, which is a symbol of divine omniscience and omnipotence, God is able to scrutinize and closely examine every person, distinguishing good and evil and vigorously condemning injustice (see verses 4-5).
This image of God's eye, whose pupil is fixed on our actions and attentive to them, is both very evocative and consoling. The Lord is not some distant ruler, shut up in some golden world, but a watchful presence who is aligned on the side of good and of justice. He sees and provides, intervening with his word and action.
The upright man is able to foresee that the Lord “rains upon the wicked fiery coals and brimstone” (Psalm 11:6), symbols of God's judgment that purifies history and condemns evil, just as he did at Sodom (see Genesis 19:24). The wicked man, who is struck down by this blazing rain that foreshadows his ultimate fate, finally experiences that it is God “who is judge on earth!” (Psalm 58:12).
Delivers From Evil
However, the psalm does not end with this tragic portrayal of punishment and condemnation. The last verse opens the way to the prospect of light and peace that await the upright, who will contemplate their Lord, a just judge, but above all, a merciful deliverer: “The upright shall see his face” (Psalm 11:7). This experience is one of joyful communion and peaceful trust in God, who delivers us from evil.
Throughout history, countless upright people have experienced something similar. Many accounts describe the trust of Christian martyrs as they faced torment, as well as their firmness when they did not flee from trials.
In the Acts of Euplo, a deacon from Catania who was murdered under Diocletian around the year 304, the martyr breaks forth spontaneously in the following song of prayer: “Thank you, O Christ. Protect me because I suffer for you … I adore the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. I adore the Holy Trinity … Thank you, O Christ. Come to my help, O Christ! For you I suffer, Christ … Great is your glory, O Lord, in the servants that you have deigned to call to yourself! … I thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, because your strength has consoled me; you have not permitted my soul to perish with the wicked and you have granted me the grace of your name. Confirm now that which you have done in me, so that the impudence of the adversary will be confounded” (A. Hamman, Preghiere dei Primi Cristiani, Milan, 1955, p. 72-73).
Pope John Paul II met with 4,000 pilgrims during his general audience Jan. 28. He resumed his series of teachings on the psalms and canticles of the Liturgy of the Hours’ evening prayer with a meditation on Psalm 11.
The Holy Father pointed out that Psalm 11 speaks of the Lord on his heavenly throne, attentive to all that is done on earth. “The Lord is not some distant ruler, shut up in some golden world,” he observed, “but a watchful presence who is aligned on the side of good and of justice. He sees and provides, intervening with his word and action.”
Yet the attack of evil in the world takes its toll on man. “The upright man feels a sort of discouragement, loneliness and impotence as he faces this onslaught of evil,” the Pope said. “It seems to him as though the foundations of a just social order have been shaken and the very basis of human coexistence has been undermined.”
But the Holy Father pointed out that God is good and, while he vigorously condemns all injustice, he also comforts the righteous during their trials. He is their savior and in his presence they will have peace. “This experience is one of joyful communion and peaceful trust in God, who delivers us from evil,” he said. This hope, he said, has sustained many believers in their difficulties and has given courage to countless martyrs.
- February 8-14, 2004