Who do we fear? And, how we do overcome those that we fear?
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever…. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes. All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the LORD I cut them down. … Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. (Psalm 118: 1, 6-10, 29)
After reading these verses, we have our answer. The answer is to fear the LORD and no other; and to trust him to empower us to overcome the enemies we fear? Who do we fear? We typically fear our enemies — mortal enemies. Who are your enemies? Our enemies are typically other humans — mortals.
The Psalmist of Psalm 118, speaks of his enemies as other humans as well. And, to overcome those enemies, he relies on the power of the LORD to overcome them — to cut them down. And, the Psalmist attests that this power over his enemies is due to the enduring love and presence of the LORD in his life.
I do not doubt the Psalmist’s witness here. But, when we read this Psalm in our day, we also have to take into account what else has happened in history. An event in history that has drastically changes how we read this Psalm and allow it to speak to our lives today.
The event that has happened, is that God stepped into human reality in sending his Son, Jesus to be born into this world. And, not just born, but Jesus was also put to death by his enemies. But, he was not overcome by those enemies. Rather, Jesus was empowered by his Father in heaven to overcome his enemies — not by cutting them down (as the Psalmist recalls) — but in overcoming the death they enacted against him.
Jesus’ death and resurrection is a pivotal moment in history. Jesus flips the nature of things on it’s head. His enemies were not overcome by violence, but rather by self-sacrificially love. And, his enemies were not overcome by the LORD’s empowerment to cut-down them down, but by the LORD’s empowerment to overcome death — resurrection — life-eternal.
The reality is, that Jesus’s situation with his enemies parallel’s much of the Psalmists situation with his enemies. Both struggled with enemies. Both struggled with the temptation to fear their enemies, rather than their heavenly Father. Both overcame their enemies by the power of the LORD at work in their life. But, this is where their situations differ. They differ in the means by which the LORD worked through them to overpower their enemies. The Psalmist’s was through brute-force. But, Jesus’ was through self-sacrificial love.
In our day, there are many people that are considered our enemies. And, people’s engagement of those enemies is often viewed as the “righteous” form of engagement. We fall prey to the temptation to put our trust in one country’s leaders to overcome the enemies. We fall prey to the temptation to put our trust in a political ideology/party’s leaders and activists to overcome the enemies. We fall prey to the temptation to put our trust in the people, activists, and leaders that will demean, legislate, and cut-down the enemies against our particular social class.
We, particularly in the U.S., live in a culture that fears human enemies, but ironically puts our trust, faith, and hope in similarly-minded humans to empower us to overcome those very enemies. And, even if we seek our empowerment from LORD, we still end-up pulling God into an engagement with enemies that is focused on being over-and-against our enemies — brute-force-style engagement of our enemies (maybe not necessarily by-way of physical violence, but at least oriented around verbal and emotional violence — you need only look no further than the 2016 presidential election process to see this at work). And, it put’s us in a vicious and hopeless cycle. But, this is a drastically different picture than the style of empowerment and engagement of enemies that we see in Jesus’ life on earth.
When we read Psalm 118 today, I believe we would benefit from reading it through the lens of what Jesus did in engaging his enemies. Jesus — God come to live among us mortal humans — gives us the clearest and fullest picture of how God would engage enemies. Like the Psalmist, Jesus fears, trusts, and hopes in his heavenly Father over any other, especially any other humans. And, like the Psalmist, Jesus is empowered by his heavenly Father to overcome — cut-down — his enemies. But, Jesus overcomes his enemies in a fuller, more beautiful way than we see in the Psalms. Jesus overcomes his enemies through being empowered by the Spirit of his heavenly Father to self-sacrificial love his enemies and trust that the Spirit of his heavenly Father has the power to resurrect him back to life. Rather than demean his enemies, he sees the inherent value in them as creatures made in God’s image — and loves them because of that.
Those of us who follow-after Jesus, are called to his kind of engagement with our enemies. We are to fear, trust, and hope in our heavenly Father only. We are to overcome our enemies through being empowered by the Spirit of Christ to self-sacrificially love our enemies and trust that his Spirit has the power to resurrect us back to life (see Romans 6:1ff). We are called to see the inherent value of all people made in God’s image — and love them because of that.
Truly, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 118, “The LORD is with me…. I look in triumph over my enemies.” The LORD was with Jesus in the triumph over his enemies that put him to death on a cross, and the LORD is wanting to be with us today, in empowering us to triumph over the enemies that would seek to destroy us. But, he does so, as he did with Jesus — through self-sacrificial love and the power to resurrect life out of death. To this, along with the Psalmist, we too can say, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love [for us] endures forever.” His love never leaves, it is always present, and it is always triumphant.