Is the World a Safe Place? (Psalm 115)
I. Is It Safe?
Is the world a safe place? That seems like a relevant question, doesn't it; especially in the middle of a global pandemic. Many people today might answer “no” for that very reason.
But others might answer “no” because they are in clearly dangerous situations: a soldier in a volatile region, a woman in an abusive relationship, a elderly man in a gang-infested part of town. But I'm guessing that most people who fundamentally believe the world is not a safe place are people not currently in danger, but who have been, in the past; maybe repeatedly.
And when we talk about “danger”, we don't have to imagine criminals or crocodiles or a crate of explosives. Sometimes the 'danger' in question is a hurtful relationship. Sometimes, people don't believe the world is a safe place simply because they've suffered a series of blows; one circumstantial blow, followed by an emotional blow; one blow, right after the other.
How about you? Do you believe the world is a safe place? Maybe it's better to ask, “Do you live each day like the world is a safe place?” To some extent, in light of our individual experiences, all of us believe the world is unsafe. Therefore, we avoid certain people, places, circumstances, conversations, behaviors, thoughts, hopes and dreams... because we have been hurt... disappointed... rejected... Therefore, inwardly, we often label such things as 'unsafe'.
For some, feeling unsafe is generally circumstantial; a once-in-a-while kind of struggle. For others, it is absolutely crippling. For still others, not feeling safe is the 'undiagnosed' driver of this or that unhealthy behavior. What am I getting at? Not feeling safe is a very real and very common struggle, one with which we have to grapple. Wonderfully, it's also a struggle to which God speaks; a struggle about which God cares.
Turn in your Bible to Psalm 115. This morning we will dig into the first of three studies focused on that keyword, safe.
III. The Passage: “He Does All that He Pleases” (115:1-18)
Let me begin by simply reading through this Psalm. As I do, think about how it connects to our initial questions about feeling safe. Listen as God speaks to us through this ancient writer...
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!  Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”  Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.  Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.  They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. >>>
 They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.  They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.  Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.  O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.  O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.  You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.  The LORD has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron;  he will bless those who fear the LORD, both the small and the great.  May the LORD give you increase, you and your children!  May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth!  The heavens are the LORD's heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man.  The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence.  But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the LORD!
Amen? Amen! So, this morning I will not be going line by line and dealing with every idea we find in the psalm. What I'd like to do instead is step back and consider several of the themes we discover in this passage... AND, how they might speak to the ideas of being and feeling... safe. Notice first of all...
1. There is Danger on All Sides
This idea is not right on the surface, but look at verse 2 again: “Why should the nations say, 'Where is their God?”' What exactly does that mean? It's a reminder that ancient Israel was surrounded on every side by nations that who sought to take advantage of any season of struggle; who looked to exploit any adverse circumstances in an attempt to assert their supremacy. Whatever was happening in Israel when this psalm was composed, feeling unsafe was a result of precisely this threat. This is why we go on to read how...
2. God is Our Help and Shield
You can't miss that refrain in verses 9-11. How could you? It's stated three times, first to the nation as a whole, then to the priests (i.e. the “house of Aaron”)(they were the teachers), and finally to each God-fearing Israelite... “He is their help and their shield.” Both “help” and “shield” are used repeatedly throughout the Psalms to describe God's provision for and protection of his people. So when we understand the geo-political threat from the surrounding nations, this repeated refrain makes better sense. The refrain is especially true since...
3. Their Threats are Ultimately Empty
Did you notice that four verses are spent on the foolishness of following idols? Yep. Look at verses 4-8. Why so much ink? Well, we have to remember that Israel's pagan neighbors made threats in the names of their own particular gods. They believed their gods were stronger. And if they happened to win a battle against the Israelites, this proved the superiority of their deities. Thus, they might ask mockingly (v. 2) “Where is THEIR God?” So the psalmist desperately wants to remind his possibly desperate readers that these so-called gods are nothing more than dead idols... and their worshipers are like them: spiritually dead. But Israel serves the living God. So in terms of ultimate things, the threats of these idol worshipers are as empty as the idols they worship. It's this contrast between the false gods and the true God than points us to a final theme...
4. God's Power and Pleasure Serve His Purpose
Even before we read about the emptiness of the many so-called gods, verse 3 declares the fullness of the one, true God. Look at it again. Really savor that verse... “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Isn't that amazing?! That verse is not about two things: God's location and God's selfishness. No. That verse is about one thing: God's sovereignty. That means God is the exalted King of the universe, and rules over all things and in all things according to his good pleasure. Even over the hard things, even over the scary things, even over the painful things, even over the confusing things... even over a world full of false idols and angry threats... our God reigns.
And his infinite power and holy pleasure serve his perfect purposes. Notice what this psalm tells about the God who purposes: (verse 1) he is a God of “steadfast love” and “faithfulness”. Notice what this psalm tells us about this God's purposes: (verses 12 and 13):
The LORD has remembered us; he will bless us [here come those three audiences]; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron;  he will bless those who fear the LORD, both the small and the great.
In scary and unsettling times, ancient Israel could know that God's purposes were characterized by blessing and (v. 14) “increase”. And these purposes were larger than their patch of land in the Middle East. Verse 16: “The heavens are the LORD's heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man.”
IV. Safety & Sovereignty
Is this world a safe place? No.. but ultimately, yes... for those who (v. 11) “trust in the LORD”. Why “no”? Well... There is danger on all sides, as Psalm 115 reminds us. We see that every day, in all sorts of areas. But in the face of that danger, we have incomparable comfort: God is our help and shield. But what about the earthly dangers we face, whether they be physical, relational, emotional, vocational, financial, etc.? Well, God wants us to know... their threats are ultimately empty. They can't have ultimate power against us if God's ultimate power is for us. And as we just heard, God's power and pleasure serve his purpose. What is His purpose? To bless.
So how will these truths change us? How can we live in light of what God has revealed? Let me share a few thoughts:
First, it's important to understand when (and if possible, why) you feel unsafe or less safe. Some of us know all too well when and why we feel unsafe. But for others, it may be important to identify something deeper that's being triggered. Still others of us aren't thinking at all in terms of safety or danger. What are the tell-tale signs that someone feels unsafe? Defensiveness. Maybe withdrawal or wholesale retreat. Maybe emotional paralysis. Those who study human behavior have described this as a 'fight, flight, or freeze' response. Could it be that your attitude of defensiveness, or your tendency to withdraw, or your emotional or relational paralysis is not ultimately about what is happening on the outside, but instead, about feelings unsafe on the inside?
God did make you with a self-preservation system that alerts you to danger and helps you avoid danger. The problem is, sin has corrupted that system. And so now our perception of what is safe and unsafe, and our response to it, is often, ironically, harmful to us and others.
Would you take time to pray today and this week about when and why you feel unsafe? Or for some, that God would simply reveal how this is a factor through those emotional symptoms.
Second, ask God to help you see the ultimate 'emptiness' of worldly 'threats'. I don't say that in order to minimize the seriousness of the dangers you're facing. I share this in order to help you consider that seriousness in light of what we've called an 'ultimate' perspective. For example, if you feel unsafe because of COVID-19, then consider it's 'threat': the worse it can do is kill you, right? But in terms of God's ultimate perspective, life is far bigger than your physical existence in the here and now. God is the God of eternal life. Your physical death is inevitable, whether from a virus or something else. But there is ultimate hope! Romans 6:23...
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
COVID-19 may be a threat, but it can never threaten the eternal life God offers us. The same is true for every worldly 'threat' that might threaten our safety. Ask God for the eyes to see that 'emptiness' in light of the fullness of his eternal purpose of blessing in Jesus.
Third, be specific as you rehearse your safety in light of God's sovereignty. When you feel overwhelmed by 'danger on all sides', or at least danger on one side, try to stop and think of that circumstance and those feelings in light of Psalm 115:3... “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Remember why this is so relevant: God's position reminds of God's power, which in turns points us to God's pleasure in accomplishing God's purposes. And God's purposes for his people are unstoppable purposes of blessing.
Therefore, in the midst of that hard or scary or painful or confusing time when you feel unsafe, memorize, then meditate on, Psalm 115:3... “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Remind yourself, “God is over this. But he's also in this.” When the psalmist reminds his readers three times that God is “their help and their shield”, he is not denying the reality of danger. No. He is encouraging them, that in spite of that danger, they are protected for God's purposes of blessing. God provides and protects, and nothing and no one can change that.
You see, understanding God's sovereignty is the key to understanding ultimate safety. You will never feel truly safe in this world unless you can truly see the One who is over this world. And that seeing, with those eyes of faith, is a process, not a one-time transaction. The readers of Psalm 115 knew the true God. But that didn't mean they didn't need to be, once again, reminded of the true God. We all need these reminders, regularly.
Is this world a safe place? No.. but ultimately, yes... for those who (v. 11) “trust in the LORD”. And we know, that when we read past Psalm 115, all the promises of the OT find their fullness in the NT, specifically, in the person of Jesus. Only Jesus can bring us to the God described in Psalm 115. Only through his incomparable life and work, only through his death and resurrection, can we know those ultimate purposes of blessing.
Is the world a safe place? Some today would answer “yes”. But oftentimes that answer is rooted in a person's position or their network or their money or their health or their past success. Brothers and sisters, friends, ultimate safety is not rooted in anything this in this world. It is anchored in the One who over this world. Let's praise him just like the psalmist!