Friday, March 13, 2020

Psalm 91 and Coronavirus

Amid the talk of coronavirus, I’ve seen plenty of posts about Psalm 91. Many focus on verse 10, “There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” One preacher declared that if people would claim this promise that the virus would stay away. It bothers me when I hear people make claims like this because simple observation tells us that Christians are not immune from viruses, or cancer, or automobile accidents, or anything else. How are we to explain this? Is it a lack of faith? Is God a liar? Does this passage even mean what people think it does?

Psalm 91 is a reassuring passage to read because it mentions many protections that only God can provide in a way that says it will be done. But does it really say that we can go to the Lord and say, “You promised that I wouldn’t get sick?” It’s interesting to note that Satan used this same passage when he tempted Jesus to throw himself down from the temple, but equated this with “tempt[ing] the Lord thy God.” If Jesus wouldn’t use the passage in this way, should we?
One of the questions we should answer is who this passage is written to and about. Our tendency is to look at any of the Psalms and make it about us. Verse 1 says, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” We want to interpret this as “If I dwell in the secret place of the Most High then I will abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Then we try to figure out what the “secret place” is and start making up things. We might say that those who are a Christian dwell in the secret place. But then we think that maybe it is really only those Christians who have a very close relationship with the Lord. This gives us an out if we or some other Christian gets sick because we can always say that our relationship with the Lord isn’t as good as it should be. But this is not how we should interpret scripture.

It’s interesting that the writer of this Psalm refers to the Lord as his refuge and fortress, but he seems to be talking to someone who has “made…the Most High, [his] habitation.” It brings to mind a walled city, which would be a “refuge and fortress” for the people who lived outside the city, but would be a dwelling place for people who had homes in the city.
Some people think that Psalm 91 is a psalm of Moses and suggest that the “secret place” might refer to Moses meeting with God in the cloud on the mountain. But other people think this is a psalm of David, which might call that interpretation into question. Psalm 18:11 says that the Lord “made darkness his secret place,” and has references to a severe storm. Psalm 27 speaks of the secret places of the Lord’s tabernacle and of dwelling in the house of the Lord. Psalm 81 refers to “the secret place of thunder.”

Here’s a possibility that seems to fit the context and what we know: maybe dwelling in the secret place isn’t continual, but is a place that we go for refuge in times of trouble. But it’s not up to us to choose whether we are in the secret place or not. When the Lord “covers thee with His feathers,” that is when you are in the secret place. We can run to him for help and request that he cover us to protect us, but just as Jesus would not throw himself from the temple to test this, we should not put ourselves in harm’s way just to try it out. And we should not assume that this protection will give us long life on Earth. It may be that the Lord will protect us by taking us to be with him in heaven. And as it relates to the coronavirus, yes, we can seek the Lord’s protection, but it could be that he protects some of us by allowing us to contract the virus. It may be uncomfortable for a time, but we may come out with immunity to that virus on the other side. And if it kills us and we are in Jesus Christ, we will enter into a life that is better than what we know now.