In the Dark

Gary Wilkerson

A Message of Hope from Psalm 11

“…for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart” (Psalm 11:2, my emphasis).

Psalm 11 starts with a problem and ends with a promise. In between, it addresses three questions about our times of troubling darkness and the assaults coming at us. Our first question is “Where is God when we’re in the dark?” The second is “How do we call on God when we’re in the dark?” The third is “What is God’s commitment to us when we’re in the dark?” 

It is one thing to suffer through times of darkness when we bring it on ourselves through a lifestyle of sinful behaviors. In that case, we should expect arrows to come. For the upright in heart, however, endlessly suffering in the dark is troubling to the soul. 

This is the point when things get tough for people of faith. As our situation gets worse – when our pain increases and suffering seem to multiply – we get confused. Our expectation is to see the light of God’s face shining on us, but instead we remain helpless in the troubling dark. Moreover, as David said, the enemy fires arrows at us that we can’t see coming.

David, the author of this psalm, knew he had a place to go in his darkness.

When we are in need, we seek the light of the Lord’s countenance to show us a way forward. He is our only reliable source when we’re confused, drained and overwhelmed. David attested to this when opened Psalm 11, “In the Lord I take refuge” (Psalm 11:1, ESV). David was telling us that we have hope of escape in our time of difficulty and that the Lord is the safe one to whom we can bring our cries. 

A beloved member of my family suffered a long season of darkness that was forced on her. My maternal grandmother was the sort of person anyone would want as a grandparent. A picture of kindness, she sat on her porch in a rocking chair, sweetly awaiting our arrival before starting her endless baking of cookies. She spent hours praying for her children and grandchildren. Many times, I found her in the living room on her knees, praying.

Anyone looking in from the outside would never have guessed that this lovely, holy woman was stuck in a dark season that never seemed to end. My grandfather had a serious alcohol problem, and at his worst, he abused my grandmother terribly. He screamed at her, accused her of things she didn’t do and struck her. My grandmother prayed and hoped for a turnaround, but the abuse and pain went on for decades. Finally, my grandfather came to Christ, and things changed. Through all the preceding years, though, my grandmother never knew whether she would ever see a joyful day again.

What do we do when we are endlessly shot with arrows in the dark?

As I mentioned, David opened Psalm 11 by stating, “In the Lord I take refuge” (Psalm 11:1). He sought a haven of safety in God. In the previous psalm, David called out, “Lord, these trials never end. I long to fulfill your purposes in my life, but those dreams seem to have died. When will you deliver me to fulfill the things you have planned for me?” 

Our need for relief in dark times is heightened as our troubles continue. As our pain intensifies and we don’t feel God is responding, we might seek a source to numb that pain. Some seek relief in alcohol, porn, spending, overeating, sexual immorality or other supposed pleasures, anything that might distract from the unending pain. 

All of these take a terrible toll, and none of them work. In fact, they give us a false sense of fulfillment. As the fleeting pleasure dissipates, we’re left not just empty but guilty. We have piled another type of anguish on top of our pain, weighing down our soul, and the enemy’s arrows become worse. Our longings can only be met in the Lord. 

I love David’s strong response to this crushing cycle. The phrase “In the Lord I take refuge” tells us that he was determined to look to no source other than God himself. There, in the safe haven of the Lord’s presence, David understood that he would continue to have dark times. 

David cried to whoever was advising him, “How can you say to my soul, ‘Flee like a bird to your mountain’” (Psalm 11:1-2). He seemed to be saying, “I can’t run away from my problems. How can I possibly escape to other things?” David was resolute to trust the Lord rather than fleeing. He showed us how it is possible for us to worship in the midst of our unending dark. Even in our worst moments, as my grandmother exemplified, it is possible to worship if we run to the Lord’s incredible refuge. 

What can we do when it feels like our foundations are destroyed?

David asked, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). He knew that as long as our foundations remain in place, the upright have no need to fear. 

Throughout the years, church leaders have used this verse to speak to national and political concerns. They see societal foundations being destroyed as immoral practices are upheld as good. The context of this verse, however, makes clear that its application is much more personal than political or national. David was saying, “If the foundations of my life are threatened, if my faith is torn down and my hope is crushed, where is it possible to flee?” 

In verses 4 and 5, David gave us a reason for hope. “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalm 11:4-5, my emphasis). Here we see God’s response to two kinds of people. One type of person is tested while the other type is terrified. The latter is terrified because God’s “soul hates the wicked” (Psalm 11:5). This is a fearful thing for evildoers. 

Meanwhile, God’s people are tested by the arrows fired at them in the dark. Of what value are these tests? Our enemies mean them to break us, but God uses them to prove his protection and power. In short, our tests teach us how to run through enemy troops and leap over walls (see Psalm 18:29). David wanted us to know, “God will test you but not so that you fail. Your test will be one that ultimately leads to victory.” 

Our tests also reveal God’s power,
and this terrifies our enemies. David wrote, “Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup” (Psalm 11:6). This is God’s judgment, plain and simple; and it will come upon the wicked rapidly like a wildfire, consuming their corrupted lives. They may have triumphed for a short season, but their end is pain, sorrow and self-loathing. That is the cup of judgment they have to drink unless they turn and repent.

I am awed as I consider the tests that some people have endured and the victories that God gave them.

Sometimes the tests that befall us lead to something glorious. God’s grace has unlimited power to redeem and transform any life, no matter how damaged. We can flee to him because he sees all that we go through. “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see…” (Psalm 11:4). God is sovereign, omnipotent and unchanging, and that means his refuge is a foundational security to us. 

Those who are not being tested, that is the wicked and ungodly, become terrified. They will not triumph but instead will see their works overturned. Hot coals of conviction will rain down on their heads, and their lot will be scorching destruction. The lives of the upright are a different story. “For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face” (Psalm 11:7). 

When I consider my grandmother, I see someone who went through dark times and was shown the powerful light of God’s countenance. She did not let her tests defeat her. She emerged triumphant, entering the victory that the Lord had for her. When she needed help, she ran to the refuge of God’s presence, and that renewed her strength. It was not apparent to the naked eye, but over time, my grandmother was granted unlimited power over the arrows fired at her. In the end, she passed her tests with flying colors. 

You and I have been promised the power to pass our tests too. We can face our season of darkness and time of trouble as arrows fly at us from all directions. At times, we’ll be alarmed by everything that comes at us, causing us to wonder, “Why am I in this place? I can’t handle all of this at one time. Whenever I pray for relief, more arrows fly at me.” 

No matter how dark your night becomes and how fiercely arrows fly at you, God has his hand over your life.

God has a purpose for you, and your testing will bring you out of the darkness with great glory to him and great joy to your soul. When you refuse to give up, turning to him at your most difficult time, you accomplish more for his kingdom than ever. “He loves righteous deeds” (Psalm 11:7). 

In those times, we find ourselves encompassed by God’s protecting hand. He points and says, “See my servant in the midst of the dark. That arrow flew at her, but she stood strong. She had faith, and she fled to me to draw on my strength. She shall see my face.” 

No matter what test you’re enduring, no matter what dark valley you find yourself in, you will not fall. Seek his refuge, and your reward will be his countenance, its light piercing the darkness you’ve been through. To all who suffer and despair, his joy will come; his hope will sustain, and his grace will cover and carry you. You will emerge from the dark with the strength of victory to his great glory. Amen.