For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge-
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
Psalm 91:3-6, 9-10
President recommends Americans wear masks in public. That’s the headline of the day.
Fear is at fever pitch. There were more Google searches for prayer in March than in the last 5 years that comparison data has been available. People are afraid.
No Evil Shall Befall You
He will deliver you from the deadly pestilence. Those words from Psalm 91 sound like a perfect fit for these COVID-19 days, don’t they?
People recite it when they wash their hands or as they go to the grocery store. Many are clinging to these verses for health- and for life. The words, for some, are like a Christian incantation, a hex on the deadly coronavirus.
And that makes me very uneasy.
But the Psalm does say, No evil shall befall you, no plague will come near your tent.
So what does that mean? Does it mean that if I have faith, or better yet, if I have faith and wear a mask and wash my hands and self-quarantine I- and those in my tent- won’t get COVID-19?
Is that what Psalm 91 really means?
Faith, by cheering the heart, keeps it free from the fear which, in times of pestilence, kills more than the plague itself…Charles H. Spurgeon, Commentary on Psalm 91:3
Abby, I’m really scared. My caregiver does not wear a mask. That’s how my friend Jean started our call. Jean is physically fragile and homebound. She paused, then added, I feel guilty for being scared because I believe in God.
Jean, about the guilt: You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair. You can’t stop the fear that tenses your gut. But you can keep fear from nesting in your head. She liked that. I went on.
May I share two things I try to do when I’m really scared? She agreed.
Here’s what I told Jean.
Reality Therapy for Real Fear
What is the worst thing that could possibly happen if my worst fear comes true? I try to ask myself that the moment fear springs up. Whether I hear a bump in the night or I feel a lump in my chest- I ask, what it the absolute worst thing that could happen? Then I sit with that answer a while. And usually, Jean, if I’m honest, my worst fear is death.
But the second thing more important. As I sit with the worst case in my mind, I try shine God’s truth on it. It might be lyrics that buck me up, like I fear no foe with you at hand to bless… Or, Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed. (I didn’t tell Jean, but I’ll tell you, if you’re so frozen in fear you can’t find this light, please won’t you ask a friend to help you?)
Like, no evil shall befall you.
How can you be so sure, Miss Abigail? That’s what you’re thinking, right? Because faithful Christians will die of COVID-19. Pestilence and plague will befall us. Death will come near our tents.
They may have done everything right and may have even prayed Psalm 91 each night.
What Does Psalm 91 Mean?
Not to burst your bubble, but unless Jesus returns first, you and will die. We’re mortal. We must.
So what does, No evil will befall you mean? We’ve got to understand rescue the right way or we’ll be greatly shaken when good folks get sick or when we have to look death in the eye.
Charles Spurgeon ministered through a deadly cholera epidemic in London. He explained “no evil” like this:
It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord; the most crushing calamities can only shorten his journey and hasten him to his reward…Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honour, death is his gain. No evil in the strict sense of the word can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good.
Let that thought nest. Actually, go you rest under his wings.
Because one way or another, God will deliver all his children. He will rescue us from the fangs of COVID-19 and bring us safely into his kingdom.
One way or another, in life or in death, he will.
God does not say no afflictions shall befall us, but no evil.-Thomas Watson.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. These are some of the very last words Paul spoke. They’re at the end of the last chapter of the last book he penned in prison shortly before he died, probably by beheading at the hands of evil Nero.
He had just mentioned Alexander the coppersmith who did him much evil and he knew his days were short. What most of us would call evil was “befalling” Paul. Then in 2 Timothy 4:18, he writes,
The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.
We must understand this to understand what Psalm 91 really means. Real evil was is that Paul’s faith would wither. Real rescue was being brought safely home to Jesus.
That is it! If we make the Lord our refuge, then fear won’t cripple us- because we know that the worst- even disease and dying- brings the best.
Because real rescue means God bringing us safely into his kingdom.
When Death Sounds the Retreat
Faith is endangered by security, but secure in the midst of danger, someone said. If there’s an upside to COVID-19, this is it.
I know the Puritans paint a rosier picture of death than we’re used to. But tell me this isn’t true:
Friend, if you were prepared, death would be to you a change from a prison to a place, from sorrows to solace, from pain to pleasure, from heaviness to happiness. All your sins and sorrows would be buried in your grave and the ship of your soul…and you would arrive at a blessed and everlasting harbor. Death would sound the retreat, and call you out of the battlefield- where the bullets fly thick in your combat with the flesh, world and wicked one- to receive your crown of life.George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and Flourishing of Faith, 1662
We are under his wings. Evil cannot touch us there!
And, if it seems to, as John Piper wrote, there must be a glorious deliverance we can’t see. What else can we conclude when we put these two Psalms together:
Remember how Jesus talked to his disciples this way?
Jesus doesn’t tell lies and he doesn’t speak out of both sides of his mouth. He speaks truth. He is the truth.
So Jean, this all means that you might- I might- get infected with COVID-19 and Psalm 91 is still true.
No evil will befall us.
What is our hope in life and death?
Christ alone, Christ alone
What is our only confidence?
That our souls to him belong
Who holds our days within his hand?
What comes, apart from his command?
And what will keep us to the end?
The love of Christ, in which we stand
Words and Music by Keith Getty, Matt Boswell, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker, Matt Papa
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.