Help, O LORD, for the godly are fast disappearing! The faithful have vanished from the earth!
Psalm 12 begins with a dire description of a culture on the road to ruin: “[T]he godly are fast disappearing! The faithful have vanished from the earth!” (12:1). In particular, the psalmist sees neighbors lying to each other and violence done to the helpless (12:2, 5). “[T]he wicked strut about, and evil is praised throughout the land” (12:8). The bonds that hold society together are being severed as people lose the ability to determine right from wrong.
Sound familiar? Have you ever found yourself listening to the evening news, thinking that the godly are disappearing and the faithful have vanished from the earth? I know I have. For me, the worst of all is when people I trust go bad. I don’t expect much from those who traffic in violence and crime. I don’t even look to celebrities and athletes to be exemplars of morality. But when trusted leaders are found to have done terrible things, especially when those leaders are pastors or priests, I sometimes feel despair saturating my soul.
When things seem to keep on getting worse, many people throw up their hands in defeat. They figure they cannot make a difference in the world, so they choose to live for themselves and their momentary pleasures. Others sink into a pit of cynicism and negativity. Still others find the moral resolve to try and fight back, to stand for goodness in the face of mounting evil.
Scripture is clear that God‘s people should be found in this last group, those who try to make a positive difference. But Psalm 12:1 reminds us that our starting point should not be ourselves. When we see life crumbling around us, our first response should be to cry out to God: “Help, O Lord!” The Hebrew word translated in verse 1 as “help” is, in fact, hoshi’a, the first part of the Hebrew expression we know as hosanna. Hoshi’a can also be translated as “save.” It’s a cry for God’s assistance, a recognition that God alone can save us from the mess we’re in.
After we turn to the Lord and seek his help, he may very well call us to participate in his work of making things right again. But instead of relying on our own strength, and instead of exhausting ourselves trying to right every wrong, we will respond to God’s call to focus on a particular need. Moreover, we will seek to address this need, to make right what is wrong, by the power of God at work within us through the Spirit.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Can you relate to Psalm 12:1? When do you feel despair about the state of the world? What do you do with your despair? Has God called you to be part of his right-making effort in the world? If so, to what area of need has he directed you?
PRAYER: Gracious God, I can easily relate to the desperation and despair of Psalm 12:1. It does seem sometimes as if the godly are disappearing and the faithful have vanished. So much in our culture seems to be heading toward ruination rather than restoration. So, with the psalmist, I cry out to you: “Help, O Lord! Save us!”
Please protect me, Lord, from a defeatism that sets me free to pursue my own selfish gain. Keep me from cynicism that can sound so wise even as it excuses me from making a difference for good in the world. Help me not to rely on myself and my own efforts, as if I had either the calling or the ability to change the world.
Rather, may I cry out to you for help, again and again. May I rely upon you and your strength. As you guide me, may I be faithful in all things. Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, your righteousness, your justice. Help me to be a person of truth and compassion, for your glory. Amen.