by Dan Crabtree,The Cripplegate
The Puritan Thomas Watson said during the morning exercises at the Cripplegate, “John the Baptist’s head on a platter is a common dish nowadays.”
“Nowadays” was the embattled era of the English Civil War, but it could just as well be today or any other day. Church history records more dark years than halcyon days. Persecution, slander, and mistreatment has always been par for the Christian course. Jesus told his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33), and he meant it. Heads are still on the menu.
I’m assuming if you’re reading this that you’ve been on your phone or computer scrolling through all kinds of articles and videos. I don’t know your Internet habits, but here we are. So, what did you see while you were scrolling? Mostly good news? Encouragement? Rejoicing in the happy providences of God?
Or did you see another exposé on a disgraced evangelical leader? Or news about another church service turned into a shooting gallery? Or a catalogue of another church that’s left the Bible far behind? (And those were just the Christian sites.)
Brothers and sisters, we are surrounded with bad news about the evil that permeates this world. Given the dominance of Satan’s handiwork in the headlines, it would be so easy to despair. To get angry. To embitter. To whip someone online with a fresh one-liner because you’ve just had enough.
But King David has a better way for us. In his waning years, David penned Psalm 37 to help his people sing even when “the wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him” (Ps 37:12). And his wisdom can teach us how to respond rightly to all kinds of wickedness in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, or even on our screens.
- Don’t worry about evil news.
David’s psalm begins, “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!” Meaning, don’t get worked up about the existence of evil on this earth. You know this is part of post-Fall life, so expect it and don’t get wrecked by it. Don’t let it make you angry, don’t let it provoke you, don’t let it cause you to despair, and don’t get consumed by it. David makes this even clearer in verse 8 when he says, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” David is saying, “Don’t let evil make you evil!” Instead, “Turn away from evil and do good” (v. 27). Responding to evil in-kind accomplishes nothing of lasting worth, so instead meet fire with a cool glass of water and so “overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21).
As a pastor, it’s heartbreaking to see the sheep under your care drowning in despair from the 6 o’clock news. As a sheep myself, I’m tempted to be overwhelmed by it all, too. But David exhorts us to swim against the current, to keep our heads above water, to not become emotionally engulfed by the actions of evil men and women and the pain they inflict on others. Sinners will sin. That reality must not own us.
Practically, avoiding anxiety about current events may look like ingesting less evil news. You might delete a news app, put the phone away at home, check the news less often, or maybe even take a break from seeking out any digital source of news altogether. Here’s a baseline principle – if it’s causing you to sin more, then don’t do it. Jesus said something about plucking out eyes, right? Our newsfeeds may also need some plucking. Only allow it into your brain if you can respond to it in a godly way. That means don’t worry.
- Enjoy Jesus despite evil news.
Most people are familiar with Psalm 37 because of verse 4 which reads, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This is not some magic prosperity formula (sorry Joel Osteen) but a diagnostic about the primary temptation that evil news contains. The worst effect that the sin of other people can have in your life is to steal your joy in Jesus. Seriously. They can kill you, but that’s gain for the Christian (Phil 1:21). They can take your stuff, but that will only make you rely more on God (2 Cor 1:9; Heb 10:34). They could even say horrendous things on the Internet, but not one letter of it can alter your eternal inheritance in Christ!
It might sound like a Christian cop-out to say, “When the world is burning, rejoice in Christ!” but that’s what David says. And Paul says it too: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). Why do these godly men Jesus-juke in the face of untold wickedness? Because when we delight ourselves in the Lord, “he will give you the desires of your heart.” That is, when our hearts on set on treasuring Jesus, then we get Jesus. And whatever else we get; we get more of Jesus. This verse doesn’t turn God into a vending machine for material blessing but reminds us that God is the fountain of all good things (James 1:17). When we come to him to be satisfied, he always gives us more of him, and we’re always satisfied in him with whatever he hands us. That’s Paul’s secret to contentment, even in the face of radical, horrific evils (Phil 4:13). And it ought to be ours, too.
For me, this means that the headlines become my prayer line. When I hear about another church bombing or insurgent attack or celebrated sin, I throw my eyes upward, cry out for mercy, and find the ear of the God of all comfort. My sadness turns to worship when I take it to the Lord in prayer. And worship is what my heart most delights in because I was made to praise Jesus.
- Trust God with evil news.
You probably saw this one coming. When things are bad, God’s in control, etc. Amen and amen. But David’s logic in this psalm gets more specific than that. The reason that you should trust God with evil news is that God will judge all of it.
God’s just condemnation of evil takes up the bulk of this psalm and makes up David’s main argument. Why shouldn’t you be envious of evildoers? “For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb” (v. 2). Why should you lay every thought and plan at the foot of God’s throne? Because “He will bring forth your righteousness as the light and your justice as the noonday” (v. 6). “Evildoers shall be cut off…” (v. 9), “in just a little while, the wicked will be no more…” (v. 10), and “the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming” (v. 13). Over and over again throughout this psalm, David contrasts the fate of the evil with the righteous. Though “transgressors shall be altogether destroyed” (v. 38), “the salvation of the righteous is from Yahweh, he is their stronghold in the time of trouble” (v. 39).
That means I don’t have to settle accounts because God will! I can “leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom 12:19). My part is not to bring final judgment but to trust the perfect Judge. He’ll deal with all evil either on the cross or in the lake of fire, so I can rest in his righteous accounting.
And fellow believer, do not doubt that God is an exacting accountant. He will bring every wicked act in the nightly news before the bar of his holy wrath and pronounce the sentence it deserves. Evil may carry the day, but it will not carry that day. A time is coming soon when there will be no more evil news but only the good news of the gospel and God’s saving work will remain.
Trust God until then. Darkness may have its hour. “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Eccl 8:11). But it’s only an hour. “They will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Pet 4:5). Evil news, as David says, will pass away like smoke and then righteousness will reign for eternity. And so will we (Rev 22:5).
So, it may be worthwhile to cut the cable, put down the phone, and replace the dreary headlines with Scripture memory and sermons and fellowship. I know it’s helped me. It certainly will be worthwhile to press on to make Christ your own in prayer and Bible study, as it always will. But whatever evil news you encounter, believer, trust in the invisible hand of Providence behind it, guiding every morning and evening to the dawn of an eternal day. “Trust in him, and he will act” (v. 5).