Let’s start with two questions: On a scale from 1–10, how confident do you feel about your future? Why?
Your answer to the first question describes your current mood, but your answer to the second explains it.
For example, say you just flubbed a job interview. It makes all the difference in the world whether that interview was the first in a series or the last. You might be embarrassed about your performance today, but you can shake it off since you have more interviews tomorrow and the next. But what if there are no more interviews? Then you might be devastated.
Psalm 62 is a prayer of David about cultivating long-term confidence in the throes of short-term distress. To see how that happens, we need to consider one hope, two problems, and three divine attributes.
The story is told of a Sunday school teacher who wanted to use squirrels as an example of people who prepare for the future. She told students to raise their hands when they knew what she was describing.
“I’m thinking of something that lives in trees and eats nuts,” she said.
No hands went up.
“It can be gray or brown, and it has a long, bushy tail.”
The kids looked at each other, but no one raised their hands.
“It chatters, and sometimes it flips its tail when it’s excited.”
The students remained quiet until one boy sheepishly raised his hand and said, “It sure sounds like a squirrel, but I guess the answer’s supposed to be Jesus.”
That story gently pokes fun at the repetitive obviousness of how we teach Bible and theology at church, asking questions to which the answer is obviously, “Jesus.”
But there’s a reason for repetitive obviousness. It’s effective at pushing truths deep into our minds. And anyway, the answer to life’s most important questions really is the Lord.
In other words, before we complexify, sophisticate, and nuance our theology, we need to be absolutely clear on the big-picture answer. And the biggest picture is God. Notice how David describes God in Psalm 62:1–2 and 5–8: “rest,” “salvation “rock,” “fortress,” “hope,” “honor,” “mighty rock,” “refuge.”
For David, these words were more than pat theological answers he learned in the Iron Age equivalent of Sunday school — i.e., “It sure sounds like a squirrel, but I guess the answer’s supposed to be Jesus.” David could describe God that way because hard-won experience had taught him theology.
Do you remember what David said to Saul before he fought Goliath? “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37).
David had been tired and needed rest. He’d been in danger and need salvation. He’d been on shifting ground and need a rock to stand upon. He’d been attacked and needed a fortress. He’d been desperate and needed hope, shamed and needed honor. He’d been a fugitive seeking refuge. And each time, he turned to God.
If your confidence about your future depends on your present circumstances, you’re on shifting sand because circumstances change. If your confidence about your future depends on God, however, you have a firm foundation because God doesn’t change who He is or what He desires for you.
Ultimately, then, our one hope for the future is God.
Now that we’ve simplified matters, let’s complexify them.
Our one hope is God, but as we hope in God, we experience two problems. They are experiential rather than intellectual in nature, affecting how we live, not just how we think. They are the problems of evil and futility.
The problem of evil is why bad things happen to good people. Even as David was praying, he was experiencing attack. Consider what he says in verse 3:
How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down —
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
The assault on David was political, physical and verbal. You can probably find something in David’s experience of opposition that applies to you as well. The point is not the particulars of the assault but the mere fact that such things happen to innocents.
The second problem is futility. Why, to borrow a phrase from Karl Marx, does all that is solid melt into air? Everyone dies, in other words, and no one’s work endures forever.
David talks about this problem in verse 9:
Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
David uses the word hebel (“breath”) twice in this verse. It’s the same word in Ecclesiastes 1:2 that gets translated as “meaningless” (NIV) or “vanity” (KJV). The point is not that life has no philosophical purpose but that it’s transient and insubstantial. Like a breath.
In short, we all die.
These two problems show us why our confidence in the future cannot be based on the present. For one thing, our near-term might be awful. For another, our long-term is fatal.
These two problems, in other words, push us beyond our circumstances — the present, and what is imminent — toward Someone who is unchanging, eternal and transcendent.
Three Divine Attributes
So, we have one hope but two problems. The question is, how does our one hope solve our two problems? Verses 11–12 provide the answer:
One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”
What we see here are three divine attributes: power, love and justice.
If we are to have hope in the face of our problems, we must know that God has the power to solve them, to overcome the adversary and “establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17).
Power asks, “Can God do this?” And the answer is, “Yes.” Scripture’s many miracles, but especially Christ’s virginal conception, remind us that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37, ESV).
So, God can solve our problems. But does He want to? Ability doesn’t entail desire, after all. Perhaps God has the power to save us but doesn’t care for us one bit. In that case, He can but simply won’t.
It wasn’t difficult for ancient people to conceive of gods who were powerful but alternately apathetic and hostile to people. The whole point of idolatry was to house, clothe, feed and honor the gods so they would act kindly toward you. A homeless, naked, hungry, forgotten-about god was a ticked-off god who was going to smite you. You could buy its love, but you couldn’t count on it.
Into that world, the good news of a loving God strikes with the force of a revelation. The All-Powerful is all-good. This is an Old Testament thing (Exodus 34:6), as well as a New Testament thing (1 John 4:8). Indeed, it is a Jesus thing since His death is the assurance of God’s good intentions toward us:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32)
God is powerful; He can save us. God is love; He wants to save us.
But there’s still one more divine attribute: justice. What if God has both power and love but He’s biased? What if He’s like the Little League coach who gives his son the best equipment, training and position in the lineup, as well as every other possible advantage, regardless of his son’s native ability or desire to play the game? What if God spoils His own kids but leaves the others to rot in the dugout?
If you want to have hope that God can deliver you from life’s problems, you need to know that God is powerful, loving and just, or there’s no hope.
- If there’s no power, He cannot save us.
- If there’s no love, He doesn’t want to save us.
- If there’s no justice, He doesn’t love people equally; He provides atonement only for some but not all.
That’s not a god who inspires much confidence. In fact, that’s not our God. For our God “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, emphasis added).
Let’s end with the questions we started with: On a scale from 1–10, how confident do you feel about your future? Why?
I hope you see that what you believe about God (power, love, justice) as you experience distress in this life (evil, futility) gives you a basis for real confidence about your future. God is not just a proposition to believe but a Person in whom you can confidently place your hope.
P.S. I wrote this article for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.