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COVID-19 vs. PSALM 91
Getting Back to Dangerous Living and Cross-Bearing Work
COVID-19, death, social-distancing, recession, trillion-dollar spending, lost civil liberties, lost income—does not all this leave us sad beyond words? How will we move forward? Can we return to normal? Grieving, a friend wrote to me wondering if the life-saving work of PassionLife would even survive this global disruption.
I surely hope so. We are not embarrassed to pray for people’s employment. We know our reach is limited to our resources. Still, our plan is to grow our team and get back to dangerous living and cross-bearing work. This is what getting back to “normal” means.
In the last 3 months, leaders in Pakistan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Colombia, have asked for our help to train up an army of good Samaritans in their country to rescue mothers and their unborn babies. Right now, we are rescheduling trips to Zambia and Guatemala. Besides the costs, there are risks to weigh in each of these places. Going back to China, Cuba, and Vietnam—all communist countries—bring additional challenges. But this is normal.
When it comes to decision-making and the will of God, we try to couple faith and good faith together.
As a matter of “good faith,” each member of our team works from home when not overseas, to avoid spending your gifts on rent and overhead. As a matter of good faith, we live on modest salaries and carry no debt. In good faith, our Board created a “rainy day” fund. All these reflect our human responsibility to make a good faith effort to be good stewards of your contributions.
On the good faith side of good decision making, we also list think soberly, deliberate, heed warnings, research, count the costs. Faith is not a substitute for thinking. It does not immunize you from making dumb decisions and taking unnecessary risks.
But we take it by “faith” that whatever good work that God sovereignly has prepared for us to do, he will sovereignly empower us to do, even if that means protecting us from harm, sickness and death in order to accomplish it. The same is true for you! That, I think, is how to read the bold promise of Psalm 91:2-3:
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
The Psalm continues with what appears to be an absurd promise that is provably false and open to mockery from this world.
Because you have made the Lord you’re dwelling place—
The Most High, who is my refuge—
No evil shall befall you,
No plague come near your tent. (91:9-10)
Does this teach that God always protects those who trust him from all harm all the time? If so, your human experience proves it false.
Before we address the all harm/all the time aspect, let’s affirm the fundamental claim of Psalm 91. It says that God is a secure defense and a faithful protector of those under his protection. What God determines will not harm you, will not harm you. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). When it pleases God to protect you, “under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and a buckler” (91:4). He is Almighty, meaning no other power (spiritual, biological, cataclysmic, military, etc.) can pierce his cover. Or, as Daniel 4:35 says,
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”
Seen through the lens of God’s sovereign power, the extent and scope of the promise becomes clearer. Psalm 91 teaches you to trust God to protect you from every evil that would prevent you from accomplishing his sovereign purposes for your life.
Let’s consider a few examples to see Psalm 91 in action. After 400 years of oppression at the hands of the Egyptians, it was God’s sovereign will to deliver Israel and, at the same time, render judgement. Exodus 6:6 says, “God said to Israel, ‘I am the Lord…and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched hand and with great acts of judgement’” (Ex 6:6). To this end, God did not merely allow a deadly pestilence to sweep in, he sent it. But in doing so, he protected the Israelites from all harm. God told them to shelter in their homes and put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts, as a sign of their trust in Him. To this day, to celebrate Passover is to declare that God is able (Almighty) to prevent all harm to those under his protection.
Consider another example. Psalm 91:13 points to being protected from predators. “You will tread on the lion and the adder: the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.”
This bold promise does not make me want to join the snake-handlers (may they rest in peace). But the promise makes me bold to think that in completing God’s purposes for my life, God will protect me, even from snakes and spiders and predators, if need be.
For example, Jesus sent his disciples out on a mission, to go from town to town and declare the coming of the Lord. They returned from their mission rejoicing over the power of God. Jesus confirmed their joy, saying, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (Lk 10:19). It was not a blanket promise (as their martyrdom would later show) but it was an application of Psalm 91. I would summarize the Psalm this way:
If you put your hope in God and trust in his commandments, nothing bad can happen to you, that is not good for you.
Acts 27-28 provides another real-life example of Psalm 91at work. As a prisoner, the apostle Paul was being sent to Rome when the ship encountered such a fierce tempest that Luke writes, “all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned” (Acts 27:20). But God informed Paul that he was to testify of Christ before Caesar in Rome (27:24). The terrible storm lasted 2 weeks, yet Paul encouraged all on board to eat and trust in God. “Not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you” (27:34). The story ends, “And so it was that all were brought safely to land” (27:44).
Only the story does not end there, in terms of illustrating Psalm 91. Luke writes,
After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god” (Acts 28:1-6). (Emphasis added.)
Paul was rescued from a deadly shipwreck and treated to a warm fire. While adding sticks to it, a deadly, poisonous viper bit into him. The people expected him to swell up and die. “He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm” (28:6).
Viewed through the lens of God’s sovereignty, Psalm 91 becomes a sweet promise of protection designed to fuel bold obedience to God’s calling.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you. (91:5-7)
Again, let’s view these promises of protection in 3-D. Throughout the ministry of Jesus, many people, mostly religious leaders, tried repeatedly to harm him. For example, John 7:30 says, “They were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30).
Jesus was protected from all evil, right up until the hour when evil—being murdered— fit into God’s sovereign good plan for Jesus. Then, as Peter says, “This Jesus—delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).
Under the Almighty protection of God, nothing bad was allowed to happen to Jesus until it was good for Jesus (and us).
Last fall, I set off for my 29th trip to China the day after Thanksgiving. I was about 200 miles from Wuhan as the deadly outbreak spread. I returned home in mid-December with a planeload of people from China. I have not had a sniffle from Thanksgiving till now. God has protected me from sickness and death.
Why? I assume, (take by faith) that I am spared for now because he has more for me to do, and hopefully, more for us to do together.
“John, are you saying that you are impervious to COVID-19 simply because you trust in God?”
No, I’m not saying that.
Psalm 91 calls us to trust in God’s protection, not test it. Trusting in God does not make us impervious to dangers and foolish enough to try to prove ourselves invincible before unnecessary dangers.
Psalm 91 simply makes us unafraid in the face of inherent dangers, from faithfully doing, as best as we can, what we perceive God has prepared for us to do for his name’s sake.
You have rightly got hold of Psalm 91 if you say…God will protect me from all that would prevent me from doing what he has prepared for me to do.
Let’s call this the new normal!