I’ve read and reread Psalm 91 these last few weeks. My eyes linger over the promises of protection. The Psalmist tells me I won’t fear:
the terror of the night,
the arrow that flies by day,
the plague that stalks in darkness,
or the pestilence that ravages at noon.1
He continues, reassuring the reader of all the things that will not reach them because the Lord is their refuge.
But I do fear. I fear the pandemic circling our globe. I feel anxiety rise in my chest walking into the grocery store. Will I find what we need? Will I bring home an illness instead? I fear for “at-risk” loved ones. I feel myself bracing for the economic fallout, looking for hints in the headlines of what’s to come in the year ahead. When I think of those who were already on the edge, living paycheck to paycheck, I fear for their sake. I fear and wonder what our communities will look like in six months, in a year.
A quick check of the news only feeds my fears. When I look at social media, I see godly Christians posting in their grief over lost loved ones. Others face unemployment or are sick themselves. God does not always protect His people from the pestilence and plague as the Psalmist says. I can barely read these verses without thinking, “But what if?…what then?”
The Psalmist telling me that I “won’t fear” feels a bit like telling someone in the middle of a panic attack to “just calm down.” (Have those words ever actually helped anyone calm down?)
But this is God’s Word. I believe it is true. So I sit with it and wait. And He slowly helps me see more. I’ve found this is always true with Scripture. There’s more to understand when you let it steep in your heart like a cup of tea. Only then do deeper flavors come out. You discover the notes you missed the first few sips.
In my case, I missed the keyword, right there in the first verse. I rushed past the familiar words and, in doing so, missed the lens through which the Psalmist wants the reader to understand the following verses.
He writes, “The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty.” There it is – Almighty. Some translations may say, “Sovereign One.” In Hebrew, it’s the divine name, “Shaddai.” It’s the name that emphasizes God’s utter sovereignty and power.
One of the places we see “Shaddai” used the most is in the book of Job. If any book of the Bible gets to the heart of suffering, it’s Job. We see Job lose everything – his wealth, his children, his physical health, his reputation. His former friends blame him for his suffering, claiming the Almighty would never let such tragedy befall Job unless he had done something to deserve it.2 But when God speaks from the whirlwind, he sets the record straight. The Lord rebukes all of them. Chapters 38 through 41 are a relentless reminder that He alone is sovereign.
The Almighty allowed Job to suffer. He did not cause his suffering but he did allow it (and he doesn’t tell Job why). But the Lord is also good and kind. In chapter 42, we see Job restored and blessed with even more than before.
When I read Psalm 91, I have to remember the lens the Psalmist sets up at the beginning. This is the Lord Almighty. He is in complete control. No pandemic, political leader, or economy lies outside his hand. And when suffering comes our way, we know he has allowed it for a greater purpose.
The Almighty is also goodness itself. Anything and everything good we experience in this life is only a reflection of Him. Because of those two things – He is sovereign and He is good – I am not afraid. When suffering comes our way, as Jesus promised it would,3 we don’t have to fear. He has not left us to chance. He holds us securely in His good and sovereign hands.
But I suspect there is one other key ingredient to find comfort in these verses. If you’ve been in church for a while, you’d likely be able to name these attributes of God. But theological truths can feel abstract, even cold. Unless you know Him. The hidden key is our relationship with Him. My fears disappear when I remember our shared history, in light of His sovereignty and goodness. When I reflect on how He has walked me through dark valleys in the past, I can trust He will do so again. When I think of stories of friends who have seen His faithfulness, I know He will do the same for those I love. As I flip through the pages of Scripture, I see example after example of God caring for His people. He has an impeccable track record.
He may allow COVID-19 to touch our families, our church, and our communities. But only because His good and sovereign hand has allowed it. Because of that, we can trust Him. At the end of Psalm 91, the speaker changes to the Lord:
Because he has his heart set on me,
I will deliver him;
I will protect him because he knows my name.
When he calls out to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble.
I will rescue him and give him honor.
I will satisfy him with a long life
And show him my salvation.4
If you’ve walked with the Lord for a long time, reflect on times in the past when you’ve seen Him fulfill these promises. When have you seen Him deliver, protect, answer, and rescue you?
Maybe this all sounds strange. Maybe the idea of God’s sovereignty makes Him seem cold and distant. If so, ask Him to use this season to draw you closer to Him. Set your heart on Him and watch how He cares for you.