The psalm that saved us on 9/11

It was September 11, 2001.

We’d been woken up by a phone call and a crying voice on the other end, telling us a plane had flown into a building in New York City. And then another building. And then those two buildings had collapsed. And another plane had flown into the Pentagon. We didn’t have a TV and iPhones hadn’t been invented yet, so we weren’t inundated by video. But we felt as if the world had shifted forever.

But that day was also the fifth birthday of my oldest son. And we started getting phone calls from the parents of kids we’d invited to the party: “Is it still on?”

“Yes,” we said. “The party is still on. Today is a celebration day.”

And celebrate we did, even with the heaviness of the death and destruction arising from malice toward our country.

The troop of five-year-old boys who came to the party were sent on a quest. They were completing the five tasks required to become a knight in days gone by, tasks we’d tailored to five-year-old boys. And they took to them with gusto.

One of the tasks had to do with an expression of devotion to God. (Yep. Knights of old were supposed to be holy warriors.) So, we had the boys memorize a verse from the Bible. I had made plywood shields for each boy and had written the to-be-memorized words along the perimeter of each shield. The words came from Psalm 33:20

We wait in hope for the LORD;
      he is our help and our shield.

The night before, as I was writing those words the shields, they seemed appropriate, since they ended with the word “shield.” But as we parents memorized the verse along with our boys, with the background of 9/11 squeezing our hearts with fear, the words became both our prayer and our statement of faith.

Central to Psalm 33 is this theme: God created the world, so he is in charge. If he’s in charge, the nations plot in vain. It was the very message we needed to hear on 9/11.

The first three verses are a call to worship, beginning and ending with a sense of joy. The singing, music, and shouting make it sound more like a party than a pew-bound Sunday service.

Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the LORD with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.

Since the world was made by his word, God’s character is woven into the very fabric of creation. His righteousness and justice and unfailing love are the foundations the world is built on.

For the word of the LORD is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The LORD loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
    their starry host by the breath of his mouth.

Thankfully, with the right and true word of our God as the foundation of the world, chaos (represented by the waters of the seas) can be allowed a place within creation, but only a bottled-up, limited place.

He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;
    he puts the deep into storehouses.

In the Flood story of Genesis 6-8, these boundaries are temporarily eliminated. But that story ends with a promise that those chaotic elements will never be allowed free rein over the world ever again. God’s love prevails.

It only makes sense then that since every part of the world was made by God, every person in the world ought to honor him. He made it, he established it, he sustains it. It’s his and that includes you and me both.

Let all the earth fear the LORD;
    let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

If God’s words, commands, plans are the foundation of creation, they will stand the test of time. Despite seeming setbacks, God’s plans will always succeed. But every contrary plan and cross purpose will be foiled and fail.

The LORD foils the plans of the nations;
    he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever,
    the purposes of his heart through all generations.

Because God’s plans stand firm forever, to align with him is to live the blessed life, both personally and as a people.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
    the people he chose for his inheritance.

Not only do God’s words undergird everything, God sees everything, even the things we try to hide in our hearts, for he made those too. He’s never surprised by us. He sees. He knows.

From heaven the LORD looks down
    and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches
    all who live on earth —
he who forms the hearts of all,
    who considers everything they do.

Our strength doesn’t help us. Our tech doesn’t help us. Every attempt at control comes up empty. Only as we keep our eyes on the God who keeps his eyes on us do we find real help, for he alone is our help and our shield.

No king is saved by the size of his army;
     no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
     despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him,
     on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
     and keep them alive in famine.
We wait in hope for the LORD;
     he is our help and our shield.

The psalm circles back to rejoicing, because this creation-making God is none other than the covenant-keeping God of Israel. This emphasis on “his holy name” (the name Yahweh, rendered as LORD, shows up 13 times throughout the psalm) is an emphasis on our God’s character — he is loyal, faithful, true. Because he is trustworthy, we trust in him.

In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.

Three times in the last few verses (vs. 18, 20, 22), the word hope emerges. And so in this world of competing kingdoms and chaotic waters, we retain a solid hope because of our Lord’s unfailing love. If his word is responsible for this solid creation under our feet, then his love can match it in solidity and trustworthiness.

May your unfailing love be with us, LORD,
    even as we put our hope in you.

This creation-strong word that we stand on isn’t hit-or-miss like our words and our plans.  It isn’t pretentious like the posturing of world leaders with their bombs and guns. It doesn’t change like the words of our generation which are blown about on every new gust of wind.

Osama bin Laden, the architect of 9/11, and his minions have come and gone. Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush and the other world leaders who responded to 9/11 have come and gone. And the fear we felt that day, it’s done and gone as well.

What remains is our Lord and his creation-strong word. He was then and is now to this day my help and my shield. I trust in him alone.

Questions for consideration

Where does the world around me feel like it is going off the rails? What voices are urging me toward anxiety?

How do God’s creation-strong words and all-seeing eyes lead me to trusting hope today, despite my tendency toward fear?


In this world of weak words shouted at full volume, help me to hear your quieter, stronger Word, speaking your unfailing love and justice. Then may I live full-heartedly in the midst of current chaos, knowing you are my help and my shield, worthy of my trust. Amen.