Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous…
Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
in the end they will look on triumph on their foes.—Psalm 112:4-8
A few weeks ago I wrote about my childhood in Greenville, California, where my brother and I grew up in safety and freedom, surrounded by beauty that, as children, we didn’t even really appreciate. Last week Greenville was leveled by the Dixie fire, which now threatens Chester, Westwood, and other nearby communities. Here in Susanville, as the fire creeps closer each day and we live under constant cloud of smoke, and a constant cloud of fear, I’ve been thinking a lot about the above passage of scripture from Psalm 112, and wanted to share a couple of observations.
First, I’m struck by the fact that hard times are not the same for everyone. Verse 4 says “even in darkness light dawns for the upright.” It talks about righteous people who are gracious and compassionate, in other words, God’s people. It doesn’t say “even in darkness light dawns for everyone.” The reality is that dark times are darker for some people than for others. Those who have trusted Jesus experience tragedy and trials differently than everybody else. For the children of God, there is always hope, even when things seem bleak from a worldly perspective.
Next, it says that these people will never be shaken. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast and secure. This is the part that I’ve been wrestling with a lot in the last few weeks. When the skies are grey and orange, the map shows the fire a little closer every day, and the threat of evacuation is always looming, is it really possible to live without fear? My family and I were out of town last week, and while it was nice to breathe the fresh air as we visited Carey’s family in Washington, there was a constant edge of stress that kept us from truly relaxing. Would we have to drop everything, change our plans, and race home to evacuate our pets? Is God going to answer the many prayers going up to Him and bring the fire to a stop, or is it going to keep devouring more and more beautiful places that mean so much to so many? In the face of this kind of a threat, how can God’s Word tell us to relax?
As is often the case, the answer comes when we slow down and read our Bible carefully. It doesn’t say the righteous will never have bad news. If it did, then we would know that the Bible isn’t true, because righteous people get bad news all the time. I’ve gotten bad news, and you probably have too. Last week the people of Greenville got bad news, and some of them were believers in Jesus. What it says is that God’s people will have no fear of bad news. Their hearts will be steadfast and secure, and as they trust in God they will have no fear. In other words, the Bible doesn’t guarantee that bad things will never happen to us, it says we can live our lives without constantly worrying that something bad might happen.
How can this be? How can we live with the possibility of tragedy hanging over our heads all the time without being in a constant state of anxiety, especially when we know that God doesn’t promise to protect us from all the hard things in this world?
I think there are several answers, but for now I’ll just offer two: One, we have a God who meets us in the bad news. If the house burns down, if the doctor uses the word “cancer,” if you lose your job, Jesus will be there. Jesus, who did not avoid the cross, but endured it and overcame it. It’s silly to live in fear, because most of the bad things we worry about don’t happen, and when they do, Jesus will be with us, giving us the strength and grace we need to face the moment, the strength and grace of the cross and the empty tomb. Our hearts can be steadfast and secure because whatever comes, it will not crush us because of the One who is with us.
Two, we can live free from fear because the things we are truly living for can never be taken away. In this life, bad news is usually about loss: loss of health, loss of property, loss of loved ones. The pain of those losses is very real, but for those who trust Jesus, we know that there are other, greater things we cannot lose. Nothing this world throws at us will rob us of our salvation. Nothing can threaten our eternity with God in a place free from suffering and pain. No health crisis will affect our glorified bodies; no stock market crash will reduce our heavenly reward. I firmly believe that on the new earth there will be no forest fires. Come, Lord Jesus.
That is why even in darkness light dawns for the upright. If you’re a person of this world, when your house burns down or your health fails, things can look pretty bleak, because the stuff of this world was all you had, and you feel very alone in your experience of loss. Right now, our community is full of evacuees who are overwhelmed and hopeless. Many people, including the people of Community Church, are doing a great job providing them with food and water and showers and other basic necessities. As we do this, let’s also provide them with the hope that is found only in Jesus. Let’s show them that it’s possible to live without fear because of the One who has overcome this world.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33