More Bad News May Come
Steadiness in a Year of Suffering
At the end of a year like ours — with tens of millions infected and over a million dead, with rising political hostility and upheaval, with racial friction and distrust inflamed, with economic uncertainty and instability, with more devastating wildfires, with churches struggling to know how to respond — do any four lines in Scripture feel more relevant and precious than Psalm 112:7–8? The psalmist writes of the man who fears the Lord,
He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
When I came to these lines recently, I read them differently — more slowly, more curiously, more admiringly. Surely the writer faced worse news and fiercer trials than many of us have, even in a year like this one. Where did his fearlessness and steadiness come from? How does a man see the waves of a society crashing and churning, and hear the roaring winds of worse to come, and feel the swelling tremors of division and conflict, and still remain steady, firm, immovable?
As we turn the page on 2020, not knowing what bad news may come in the next several months, how might God make our faith stronger, our joy more durable, our light all the brighter? What can we learn about spiritual steadiness from Psalm 112?
The Hebrew word for steady — “His heart is steady; he will not be afraid” — is actually a passive verb meaning upheld. The same word appears again and again in the Psalms:
The arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. (Psalm 37:17
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:12)
Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. (Psalm 54:4)
Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope! (Psalm 119:116)
I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. (Psalm 3:5)
Steadiness in the Lord is upheldness. It is not mere courage or patience or sobriety, but dependence on the upholder — the all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving King over all. Steadiness comes from knowing who holds our life, from clinging to all that he has promised us in Christ, from trusting him to sustain us day and night whatever might come.
If we want a steady heart in an unsteady world, among unsteady people, during unsteady days, we need to be upheld. And we need to know that we are upheld and will be upheld. Here in Psalm 112, God gives us at least three sure paths deeper into this divine, unshakable upheldness.
First, the man upheld by God fears God. “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord. . . . He is not afraid of bad news” (Psalm 112:1, 7). The man who fears does not fear. Fearing God has made him suddenly and unassailably secure.
“If we want a steady heart in an unsteady world, among unsteady people, during unsteady days, we need to be upheld.”
How much of our instability over the last year has come from misplaced or imbalanced fear? To be clear, we have faced real fears — a life-threatening virus, extended lockdowns, shuttered businesses, lost jobs, raging wildfires, police shootings, violent riots, bitter politics, belligerent debates — all added to whatever each of us carried before our world was thrown into disorder. But a greater fear, by far, rises above every other: the awful and wonderful power and justice of our righteous Lord and Judge. If we fear how a virus or riot might harm us, we ought to fear all the more the one “who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
But this fear of fears is a strange and wonderful phenomenon, for those who fear the most fearful one find a refuge, a sanctuary, a friend. “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him” (Psalm 25:14). Because the one they fear upholds them, the fear of the Lord becomes the safest place in all the world, the only truly safe place. Their fear makes them unusually wise (Psalm 111:10). Whatever fearful trials they suffer, they suffer them in the strong arms of his compassion (Psalm 103:13). They lack nothing (Psalm 34:9). And so, their holy fear breeds the surprising fruit of fearlessness.
The fear that drives out fear also inspires a resilient obedience.
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! (Psalm 112:1)
He is gracious when others would be harsh and unkind, merciful when others would be cold and unforgiving, and righteous when others indulge and rebel (Psalm 112:4). He gives when others keep for themselves and does all that he does with integrity and justice (Psalm 112:5). He speaks, spends, and loves in ways sinners cannot explain because they do not know God (1 Thessalonians 4:5). He obeys God because he delights to obey him. “In the way of your testimonies I delight,” he sings, “as much as in all riches” (Psalm 119:14). For him, the rules of God are finer than gold and sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:10).
And obedience becomes a kiln for his courage, refining his boldness and dissolving his fear. It is an irony woven into reality that those who risk themselves in obedience to God are more secure and satisfied than those who try to serve themselves and save themselves (Matthew 10:39). And it is a tragedy everywhere in history that far more have preferred the awful perils of their perceived autonomy to the utter safety of obedience to God.
The man upheld by God knows whom to fear most, whom to obey when his flesh resists and protests, and he knows the one for whom his soul longs and waits. The fears of his present fade and dissipate next to the light of his future.
He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries. (Psalm 112:7–8)
“Our light will dawn not just after the darkness, but in the darkness, until the darkness itself expires.”
His adversity will end, his enemies will fall, his triumph will come. Even when he is assailed by trials and sorrows, and those who despise God seem to be prospering, he knows that their fortune and comfort will be short-lived — and his never-ending. The certainty of victory, of a weight of glory beyond all comparison, makes this light momentary affliction shockingly bearable (2 Corinthians 4:17). The man of God receives bad news with confidence and even joy because he knows the good news that will one day engulf and wash away every terror that might be.
Viruses will spread and be cured, elections will come and go, nations will rise and fall, but those who trust in the Lord — who fear him, obey him, and wait for his return — shall renew their strength. While others are weighed down with worldly concerns, “they shall mount up with wings like eagles.” When others are exhausted by their fears and troubles, “they shall run and not be weary.” When others give up and walk away, “they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
Our light will dawn not just after the darkness, but in the darkness (Psalm 112:4), until the darkness itself expires. Joy not only comes with the morning, but sustains us through nights of sorrow — until bad news itself is a faint and harmless memory.
Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have two children and live in Minneapolis.