One morning recently, I picked up my Bible and turned quite unintentionally to Psalm 34. Since so much of the news that week had been about the be-headings of twenty-one Coptic Christians by some Muslim thugs, I was approaching this passage with a very heavy heart, trying to make some sense of the seemingly wanton brutality that has become so commonplace today. Upon first reading, the words of this Psalm seemed to fly in the face of the horrors of that week—with verses such as…
– I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth (v.1).
– I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears (v.4).
– The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them (v.7).
– The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and He hears their cries (v.15).
– When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles (v.17).
– Many are the afflictions of the righteous but the Lord delivers him out of them all (v.19).
– The Lord redeems the life of His servants; none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned (v.22)…
…seemingly mocked by the gruesome deaths endured by those faithful believers. On the surface, it certainly didn’t seem like the Lord was hearing and answering the prayers of those men, or delivering them from condemnation. But then, we have no idea what kind of prayers they were praying, do we?
– Were they asking to be spared from death, or for the grace to die with courage and dignity, and without renouncing the name of Jesus?
– Were they harboring hatred in their hearts for their captors, or were they praying that their deaths might lead to their salvation?
– Were they blaming God for letting them down and allowing this to happen to them, or were they—like the members of the early church—praising and thanking Him for opportunity to suffer for His sake, and asking that their deaths might be used to advance His kingdom?
Whatever His purpose in allowing this event to occur, we can be sure that this tragedy did not take place without His knowledge or without His grace and mercy being evident in it somewhere. God is a good God and He has a good plan—and, even when we don’t know what it is, it is still a good plan. This means that we must trust that the One who sees the end from the beginning in every situation will be using even such horrific events as this to accomplish a far greater purpose than any of us can see right now. And, in the process of that, He will not only see to it that the verses above are proven to be true, but He will also make sure that verses 16 and 21 of the same Psalm are fulfilled…
– The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth; and,
– Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
Or, to borrow a quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in “The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems”…
Though the mills of God grind slowly,
yet they grind exceedingly small;
Though He stands waiting,
with exactness grinds He all.