When you sign a contract, read the fine print, they say.
Do God’s promises have fine print? Specifically, does Psalm 91, a scripture that promises God’s protection for times of trouble like our COVID-19 Pandemic, have fine print? People talk about God’s blessings. What about job loss, illness, worry, and fear?
“Surely He will deliver you from. . .the deadly pestilence. . . .You will not fear. . .the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.”Psalm 91:3, 5
I don’t believe God is trying to hide anything from us, or keep us from receiving His help when we so desperately need it. He loves us and wants to help–even more than we desire, if that is possible. (I believe He already is helping.) But, might we miss important things when we read God’s promises, because our need obscures the full intent of His heart?
In Psalm 91, God is inviting us to come under the shelter of His wings, where He can protect us from harm. But what brings us into that relationship? And what is the nature of it?
This is an important question. God is limited by what has happened in this world. We humans have misused the gift of free will, releasing Pandora’s powers and coming under the spell of malevolent forces. This first sin continues.
It is not myth or superstition to acknowledge that God must draw us willingly into the realm of His good will and love, through the door of forgiveness, before He can help us fully. Psalm 91 teaches this.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” vs. 1
“If you make the Most High your dwelling–even the Lord, who is my refuge. . .” vs. 9
“Because he loves Me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him. . .” vs. 14Psalm 91
When Satan tempted Jesus to throw himself down from the highest point of the temple, he quoted Psalm 91:11, 12: “For it is written (the devil said): ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in your hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”
The problem was, the evil one left an important condition out of God’s promise: “If you make the Most High your dwelling.” In other words, If you come under the loving and righteous rule of God, letting Him truly lead your life; then, He can protect you. If you trust His mercy and accept His ways, He can gather you under His wings, as a hen gathers her chicks. If you choose His love, He can cover you.
Verse 1 is telling us this: “He (or she) who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” The shelter of God was the inner room of Israel’s ancient worship tent, where God came to meet with His people, through their high priest. The Ark of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments, and the mercy seat were all there, picturing important aspects of God’s character and rule.
God is saying, if you come into harmony with my character and law through my grace, I will take you under my special protection and care.
“For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of His tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.”Psalm 27:5
Does this mean that nothing bad will ever happen to God’s people? No, as I mentioned in another blog, Jesus predicted even His followers would suffer in this world. Job did. David did. Jesus did.
I still remember my grief and spiritual disappointment when a beloved pastor colleague’s young adult daughter was murdered. (1) She was not much older than my own children at the time. I felt it deeply. I grieved for him and his family; and I struggled with my faith.
Not long afterward I was in a religious book store where I picked up a book about angels hoping to find some explanation. Were there not enough defensive angels to go around that day? Is their shielding us from harm hit and miss? Couldn’t I trust this childhood memory verse anymore (Psalm 91:11)?
As I leafed through the book, I read only what felt like platitudes. Angry, I threw it back on the table, muttering in complaint to God, “Where were the angels!”
Since then, I have learned that great love and amazing protection co-exist with great evil in this world. Sometimes the hour of darkness reigns (Luke 22:53). But God never sleeps, and He always brings good out of our suffering.
The father of the young woman I mentioned was a reserve military chaplain who was later called by our country (as one who understood loss) to minister to grieving families after 9-11 and other disasters. Stephanie Fast, a homeless Korean War orphan who suffered great abuse and deprivation, has become a champion for orphans and inspiration around the world. (2) God is with us in our troubles. He brings good out of evil. His love sustains us, even when we don’t understand.
“If the foundations (of society) be destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven: His eyes behold, His eyelids try, the children of men.”
“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called (into a relationship with Him) according to His purpose.”Psalm 11:3, 4; Romans 8:28
Psalm 91 is a wonderful psalm. It is full of hope and promises of God’s care and protection. If we accept the invitation to trust Him, to receive His mercy and come under His leadership, God will care for us and often protect and provide for us. Even if we suffer, His love will be our fortress and comfort. His purpose will always win out for us. Like the woman I know who felt the arms of God around her when her husband died of cancer and has become a help to others who grieve.
Yes, there will also be times when we suffer. But this does not disprove or invalidate that God is loving and real. Psalm 91 pictures a God we can trust and promises we can claim. We can trust His love and find protection under His wings. especially now.
“He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”Psalm 91:2
(1) Bigger, Darold. A Time to Forgive; One Family’s Journey After the Murder of Their Daughter. Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2015.
(2) Fast, Stephanie. She is Mine; A War Orphan’s Incredible Journey of Survival. D & S Publishing, 2014.