- Jeremy Whiteley
A perspective on COVID from Psalm 91
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1)
It’s a very strange and concerning time by any standards. No-one is left unaffected; no-one is immune from the sense of uncertainty and anxiety. And we don’t know how long it will last.
Our hearts go out to those who have lost people close to them. And we are immensely grateful to the NHS workers and others who are serving us through the difficult times. But just having the NHS there if we need it doesn’t really give us a sense of peace. It won’t make my job secure. It won’t protect my business. It doesn’t give me any sense of relief as the daily numbers of people affected is relentlessly broadcast by the media. Is there someone or somewhere we can turn to? The newsfeed on my mobile drew my attention to an article showing sky-rocketing website hits for holidays in Spain in 2021. Is that as good as it gets? Do we just wait for the good times to return – or is there more to life?
Uncertain times and tragic events make us ask the big questions about life. But no-one seems to have any answers other than social distancing and handwashing. Don’t get me wrong – we all need to follow the advice and rules. They will help protect us and others. But they can’t provide answers to life’s big questions.
Some friends from Zimbabwe recently forwarded their regular newsletter, encouraging people to read Psalm 91 in the current situation. As I read it there was a new reality to some words I have read many times before – “the pestilence that stalks in the darkness ... the plague that destroys at midday” (v6). We should not fear these says the Psalm. But how does that work? And how do I find the security the Psalm speaks of in these uncertain times?
We won’t always see or feel God’s closeness
I have to confess that some of the statements seem unreal as I read them – “A thousand may fall at your side ... but it will not come near you” (v7). Does that mean I won’t die from COVID if I’m a Christian? Clearly that can’t be the case.
The devil quoted this Psalm to Jesus when He was in the wilderness. Jesus hadn’t eaten for 40 days and was in desperate need. And the devil taunted him with the words of Psalm 91, as if to say, “where’s God now, and what’s happened to all these promises?” But Jesus knew that Psalm 91 wasn’t promising that everything would be just fine.
The devil would want us to be anxious and fearful and to distrust God, just as he tried with Jesus. The great promises of Psalm 91 don’t mean that we won’t face great trials and uncertainty. Rather the promises are spiritual. So how can we find assurance from them?
There is a God I can turn to in times of trouble
I can’t prevent trouble coming into my life. It may alarm me, it may unsettle me. But if I’m a Christian the Psalm says that I have a refuge, a fortress. I can turn to God in my times of trouble.
Currently relationships are difficult because of the social distancing measures. But there’s a relationship that can’t be ‘locked-down’ – a relationship with God. In verse 2 we look up to God: “I will say of the Lord … in whom I trust”. In verse 14 we find God commits Himself to us: “Because he loves me, says the LORD, I will rescue him; I will protect him”. At times like this I realise that I haven’t valued this relationship as I should – I’ve taken God for granted. But even though I often mess-up, God doesn’t change and His commitment to me doesn’t change.
We don’t have to face uncertain times on our own. We can “dwell in the shelter of the Most High” ; we can “rest in the shadow of the Almighty”.
I am always safe in Christ
The statements of Psalm 91 assure me that whatever life may throw at me I am safe in Christ – not because of what I am or what I can do, but because God commits Himself to me. The Psalm describes war, terror, disease – all the kind of things that frighten and alarm me. But it assures me that through all these I am eternally safe.
Jesus put it like this: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one will snatch them out of my hand”. (John 10: 28). This life is very uncertain. But our eternal destiny is always safe in Christ if we have put our trust in Him.
I am precious to God
God assures me in this Psalm that He will shelter me as a hen shelters her chicks. Thousands may fall at my side says the Psalm – but God is concerned about me. God will command His angels concerning me. I must be very special to God.
I hear the COVID numbers every day on the news. It’s pretty grim. Thousands are literally falling at our side as verse 7 of our Psalm puts it. But every individual is known to God, and I must constantly remind myself of His huge love and concern for me as an individual.
It is my duty to make God my refuge
We all like to be in control of life – or at least to feel as if we’re in control. But we can’t control this situation. It’s happening to us, and that makes us uneasy and uncomfortable. And what we realise is that we have put our trust in all sorts of things other than God. That’s basically idolatry – not wooded statues that we bow down to, but rather the idols of the heart – things we would rather trust in place of God. But the Psalmist resolves that he will respond to God by putting all his trust in Him. “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust’ ” (v2).
It’s a resolve – it doesn’t just happen. How easy to fall back into trying to stay in control of my situation and my fears. How easy to forget to pray and commit everything to God – to be too busy, to forget, even to lose heart. Every day I must renew my submission to God, and seek His help and strength. I must believe God’s promises, and then trust them for each day that He gives me.
May God help us all to make Him our refuge at this difficult time.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®