In God we trust: Psalm 56

As I was reading this morning’s lectionary passages, I came across Psalm 56. Almost right away I noticed that Psa. 56 contains the refrain “in God I trust” twice (italicized below). I could not find any suggestion online that Psa. 56 was influential in the wording of America’s national motto (in the KJV, it reads “in God I have put my trust”), but the psalm still provides an interesting resource for how we should understand this phrase. Here is the psalm in full:
Psalm 56:1-13

Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me;
all day long foes oppress me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many fight against me.
O Most High, when I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I am not afraid;
what can flesh do to me?

All day long they seek to injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife, they lurk,
they watch my steps.
As they hoped to have my life,
so repay them for their crime;
in wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your record?
Then my enemies will retreat
on the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I am not afraid.
What can a mere mortal do to me?

My vows to you I must perform, O God;
I will render thank-offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
and my feet from falling,
so that I may walk before God
in the light of life.
On the one hand, the psalm’s prayer for divine wrath seems to legitimate the kind of violent and retributive justice we see in the world around us. But on the other hand, the psalm makes it very clear that vengeance belongs to God alone, not to us. Today people use the phrase “in God we trust” as a way of trusting (or asking) that God will give us the victory. But in the psalm it is clear that this statement means trusting that the victory belongs to God. We are in God’s hands, and that may mean God rejecting what we want if it is contrary to God’s will.

I find it helpful to read this psalm in the light of Rom. 12:17-21:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
To confess “in God I (we) trust” is to say No to personal vengeance and Yes to living peacefully with others, No to being overcome by evil and Yes to overcoming evil with good, No to the way of violence and Yes to the way of peace.