Letter to our Students Michael A. Milton, PhD Provost of Erskine Theological Seminary Date:…
“I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” – Psalm 121:1-2
Psalm 121 is one of the most beloved Psalms in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The psalmist looks up to the hills — the beauty of verdant foothills ascending and descending to the green valleys. The soul-satisfying visage stirs the psalmist unto his exuberant prose. Only God could create such beauty. There is nothing that humankind has conceived that can rival the beauty of God’s creation. As he observes the splendor of creation, he asked himself the rhetorical question: from where will my help come? Of course, the answer is self-evident.
The same God who created the hills is capable and willing to help the psalmist in the seemingly unconquerable challenges of life. Once again, the passage calls for the reader to recognize that, indeed, our help can come from nowhere else and no one else. Only the creator has the power, the omnipotence, the omniscience, and the attributes of glory to intercede in our troubles and provide miraculous resolution. That is the affirmation in verse two. The soliloquy continues as the psalmist answers his question with the obvious — his eyes undoubtedly still gazing unto the hills – “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
Why Is Psalm 121 Important Today?
This passage is very important to us today. The appearance of the pandemic more than a year ago caused all of us to look — not unto the hills — but to the seat of supposed final resort: the federal government. It is good and right that we have a representative government and a body politic that is able to pool the resources of 300 million people to provide support in times of trouble. The challenge for earthly powers is altogether connected to the fall of man. We have heard the clever, cynical voices of some who say, “Never waste an emergency.” Naturally, the bad idea behind such a statement is that the disruption caused by a national emergency creates a void that can be filled by partisan groups, often driven by nefarious plans.
If we extrapolate the consequences of the fall as described in the Bible, we will have to admit that such a tendency to grab for power is not limited to one political party or another. Seizing control of another person is a consequence of a sinful nature that we can observe every day in marriages, in business relationships, and even in the Church. The State — that is, the collective and centralized authority of political governance — merely, tragically, magnifies on a large scale what we witness on the small scale. However, the same sins of individuals, and power centers of despotic rule, can manifest tragically different consequences. So, there is a difference between manipulative power grabs in relationships and in the same thirst for dominion in government.
We are witnessing the consequence of emergency powers that transcend our covenanted agreement of governance — that is, the Constitution of the United States — attempting to become normalized. To put it simply, a national crisis, like a global pandemic, or civil unrest—or even a manufactured emergency—increases the opportunity for totalitarianism and abuse of power. Such control, once ceded by the populace, is rarely surrendered willingly. Emergency powers assumed are rarely relinquished.
What Can We Learn from the Past?
During the Second World War, the Prime Minister and his government of Great Britain necessarily assumed to itself many of the policies, plans, and powers ordinarily vested in Parliament and lower echelons of government, down to the most vital authority, the Family. that would have the magnitude of the threat demanded such unprecedented, centralized planning, and oversight. Mercifully, the powers assumed and stewarded went to Winston Churchill, a benevolent ruler.
Toward the end of that WWII, when victory over Nazi Germany, appeared secure, Churchill was approached by a prominent economist. Frederick Hayek was an Austrian-born economist who had fled his Nazi-occupied homeland, to find refuge as the subject of Her Majesty the Queen. Hayek, who would later come to America to teach at a university, counseled the great prime minister of Great Britain that the country faced a new threat. Dr. Hayek told Winston Churchill that he must work immediately to return the power assumed, during the war, back to the lowest echelons of governance. Hayek described a perennial, historical beastly figure from the book of Revelation, that continues to appear throughout human history, and with each successive appearance grows in strength and toxicity.
What Is Statism?
Statism is the term used to describe this monstrous creature: a faceless consolidation of and relentless control of absolute control. Statism is an enemy of the Church because the Body of Christ is a threat to Statism’s insidious reign. The prophetic nature of the Church intimidates the unholy rule of statism. Whether it is Amos speaking to statism in the northern kingdom of Israel or whether it is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ reminding the Roman Empire that they have no power over Him, the outcome is the same. Statism recoils against Christ and His children, like a pit viper in a strike position. Statism has been responsible for the persecution of believers more than any other power. Statism is a spiritual disease that infects willing participants. Not all who work for the state are complicit in the spirit of darkness. Yet, the Bible tells us that the final, climactic battle between good and evil will be between the beast of statism and the Body of Christ. So, what are we to do?
What can we do Today?
Firstly, we should exercise our God-given rights and remind the government that they exist because of the allowance of the governed.
Secondly, we should be very leery of placing our hopes and aspirations in the hands of human government, especially in times of distress.
Thirdly, we should look unto the hills from whence cometh our help. Our help comes from the One who made those hills and who sustains the entire universe. We are subjects of one king, King Jesus.
He who made the heavens and the earth and sustains the planets in their courses and who has named the billions of stars in the heavens knows your name and will sustain you. By placing your trust in Almighty God through our only mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, you and I may enter the greatest act of defiance in history: choosing God over earthly powers. In the end, these are the five stones that will fail Goliath. In doing so even those who were caught up in the seductive beastly powers of statism are released from its intoxicating bondage.
The Ruling Powers in This World Are No Match for the Power of God
Our world is in a perilous place, susceptible to seizure by absolute rulers. Statism defies the rule of God, but mercifully, the gospel of Jesus Christ remains the greatest power in the universe. The ultimate prevailing power on earth is death, and Jesus Christ has defied death. Walter Brueggemann in his Lenten devotions, A Way Other Than Our Own, wrote:
“We are surrounded on the way by the God of all trust, the God who kept Abraham and Sarah safely, the one who walked all the way to Jerusalem with Jesus, all the way to Friday and only through to Sunday.”
Jesus bids us to follow that Way. Look not to the government for final solutions (which only feeds the beast); instead, lift up your eyes to the hills from whence cometh thy help.” The hills are alive with the promise of life abundant and life eternal. The State can never provide life over death. Jesus can and Jesus does; choose Him, choose liberty.