It is clear that COVID-19 is a serious and deadly global pandemic, and all necessary precautions should be taken. It is having and will continue to have significant economic ramifications in the days ahead. Still, C. S. Lewis’s words—written 72 years ago—ring with some relevance for us. Lewis was speaking of the very real threat of living in the ‘atomic age of uncertainty.’
He was challenging the people of his day with the idea that death has always stalked mankind. I’m going to paraphrase his remarks with Covid19 as the sinister threat of our day. “How are we to live in and during a pandemic?”
Lewis relates: “I am tempted to reply- Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, and car accidents.
In other words, let us not begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb or a virus came upon us. He goes on: “All we have is one more opportunity for a ‘premature’ death in a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together [in other words don’t surrender to fear]. Since death has always stalked us, we should be doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, caring for others rather than letting fear torment and dominate our minds.”
The great reformer Martin Luther shared a similar sentiment. Martin Luther lived during one of the outbreaks of the black death. When the plague first came to Europe in 1348, between 30-50% of Europe died. For the next three hundred years there were constant reoccurrences. Luther lived through one of these reoccurrences. What was his advice?
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed, in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
So what should our response be during this time? Obviously, as in all things in life, we should act responsibly and ultimately trust God. He is our refuge whether there is a moment of crisis or not. That’s the biblical message as given to us from Psalm 91 where we see a powerful word of encouragement of God’s gracious care for us. So let’s notice three elements or aspects to Psalm 91.
A confession of faith in a God who is trustworthy.
We need to not only mentally, but also verbally acknowledge to ourselves and others that God can protect us as we put our confidence in Him. We notice the Psalmist’s declaration of not only safety but an absence of anxiety and worry. We are encouraged to come to this place of confident assurance and rest in God’s ability to watch over us and yes, even to protect us from harm. God desires for us to exhibit trust rather than fear in life’s uncertainties and challenges. The Psalm challenges us to come to God with all of our fears and cares. “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty (Ps. 91:1).
The idea of dwelling is actually sitting or hiding with God. This is a place where God shelters us. What does this really mean for us? In the ancient world kings sat on thrones with footstools at their feet. The footstools were like steps up to the throne with amazing imagery of conquered people etched or painted on them. This spoke of the king’s authority and dominion over their enemies.
Here in our text the picture of sheltering with God is actually sitting with him. There is a powerful sense in reading the apostle Paul’s prayer that we need to understand what our current position is as a child of God. We are sitting with God in the heavenly realms. We are dwelling in his shelter. We are now experiencing a place of victory even though there are still enemies that attack us. Ephesians reminds us that we who were once enemies of God, but having come to him in repentance have received His mercy and grace. The result is not only forgiveness but a new position and place with God. We are now dwelling in the shelter of the Most High. We have been raised us up and as the apostle Paul writes: And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…(cf. Ephesians 2:6).
That is what is means to be ‘dwelling in the shelter of the Most High. Though there are still battles with temptation and disease, they have lost their sting and power, as we know that we will overcome. I love Psalms 23 which reminds us of the amazing benefits of having the Lord as our Shepherd. With Him there is no lack. He makes us lie down in green pastures (in other words He provides for our needs). He leads beside quiet waters in order to satisfy our thirst, thereby refreshing our soul. He does guide our steps in the right paths because of who He is. What should we take from this? God is in control and is directing our steps. Even when we walk through the darkest valleys (times such as this that we are currently experiencing) we do not have to fear this evil. Why? Because our Father is walking with us comforting us through His Words and His presence (His Spirit is with us).
He even provides for us what we need (a table) in the presence of our enemies (in this case the enemy is this virus, economic challenges). We know that sickness and death are our enemies, but we need to realize that God is here now to sustain and watch over us in this moment.
B. Here is the declaration of trust in God’s care.
I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust (Ps. 91:2). James Mays relates that, ‘refuge’ is used as a metaphor for God’s care and protection and is a pervasive theme in the Psalms. …it means to seek protected space and …to look to the LORD for security from threatening dangers.” Mays goes on to share that people have always experienced threatening dangers and what the Psalmist is trying to get us to understand is the important role of trust in coping with the anxieties that come upon us in life. Derek Kidner points out that what we have in this declaration “…is a testimony of the Psalmist’s own trust before applying it to us.”
What are those things that God protects us from?
What is God promising regarding our welfare? There are a number of metaphors to describe God’s protective hand. In life we often fail to consider all the deadly dangers that are all around us. Yet, now we are challenged in light of this virus, that its impact is more than just health related, but will also affecting our way of life. We are quickly being made aware of the fragility of life. Yes, life is fragile, we are now reminded how fragile it really is and our desperate need for God. We have taken so much for granted, as if life depended on us, rather than see the true nature of things; how weak we really are as human beings and the need to look to our Father in heaven to meet all of our needs.
Yet, when life seems ‘normal,’ we tend to ignore many of the more obvious and equally dangerous elements that surround us each and every day. Now God has grabbed our attention, not to create fear but to remind us to live life the way He intended for us to live- for his glory, caring for one another. That is what Lewis was reminding us of. Live by faith and not by fear. Live fully and lovingly, not fearfully and selfishly.
Last week, while shopping with my nephew who was desperately trying to return to Australia; he couldn’t find hand satirizer anywhere in the stores, but in two different stores the person at the cash register gave their own personal little bottle of hand sanitizer, without cost to him. This reveals how God expects us to care for each other and not allow fear to dominate our lives.
This is in contrast to something I read this week of someone who went out to buy a pound of coffee, only to find a couple who had just taken the last twelve pounds of coffee for themselves, leaving the shelf empty. When that person asked if he could have just one from the twelve they had scooped up, they responded: ‘not a chance.’”
So, what we are discovering is that during times such as these the true nature of our hearts are being exposed. Will we live in faith or in fear? Will we live lovingly or selfishly? Will it simply be about us, or are our hearts so attuned to God that we will minister to the needs of others, even at times at our own expense, revealing the nature of our Father, who reconciled the world to himself by giving up his only son?
How often do we read of the early church’s willingness to sacrifice themselves for the sake even of those who persecuted them, even during times of plague. It was a time such as our own.
In 251 a plague swept into Carthage in North Africa. Piles of the dead rotted in the streets, where they had been abandoned by their families. The pagans, casting about for causes, fingered the Christians, and a severe empire-wide persecution erupted. The emperor Decius ordered all Christians to sacrifice to the gods on pain of death. Carthage’s bishop, Cyprian, enjoined the city’s Christians to give aid to their persecutors and to care for the sick. He urged the rich to donate funds and the poor to volunteer their service for relief efforts, making no distinction between believers and pagans. Under Cyprian’s direction, Christians buried the dead left in the streets and cared for the sick and dying. For five years he stood in the breach, organizing relief efforts, until he was forced into exile.”
Rather than being thanked the Christians were punished, but they did it anyways.
A. What are the things that the Psalmist explains we can trust God with.
1. The fowler’s snare.
Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart, You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday (Ps. 91:3-6).
O. T. scholar, Derek Kidner points out: “Most of these dangers are of a kind which strike unseen, against which the strong are as helpless as the weak.” So what is the fowler’s snare? This is a metaphor for things that will entrap our lives. One example is found in Psalm 140:1-5 where we have the plots of the wicked that arise against us.
The arrogant have hidden a snare for me; they have spread out the cords of their net and have set traps for me along my path (Ps. 140:5).
Another snare is mentioned here in Psalm 91:5 where he talks about the fear and terror that comes at night. These are the thoughts that torment our minds. This is what is transpiring now in our world. People are terrified and often panic begins to rule decisions. Fear is a powerful motivator: it can cause paralysis, where we don’t do anything. One example is the Israelites facing Goliath. It took the courage of a young shepherd boy, David who had experience God’s delivering power to know what needed to be done. He trusted God and defeated the giant. Often in moments of crisis people do not know what to do. We can see two different responses. For some they flee any sense of responsibility or it can cause courageous behavior where people begin to serve others.
This Psalm speaks specifically of pestilences or plagues (virus such as what we are dealing with). We need not fear this pestilence. Why? We need to remember where we are seated. We are ‘seated with Christ in the heavenly places.’ Ultimately we know that neither disease nor death can separate us from being with our Lord (cf. Romans 8:31-39).
David Demian who has been in China during COVID 19, shares how believers there ‘were getting face masks and daily supplies and then knocking on their neighbors door and offering it to them at no charge. They would then offer to pray for them. What a powerful example to us at this time. How can we help others?
B. The Psalmist paints a powerful image of those that perish, while others God spares because of their trust in him.
“A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked (Ps. 91:7-8). Here we have an image of God’s amazing protection of the person who is placing their trust in God, while many others are affected. Does this mean that we will not be afflicted? Here is where we need to gain a broader context of biblical texts to give us a complete understanding. Some might take these texts as a charm to ward off any evil, and at times in the past people would wear charms that had these texts on them, but is that what this really means?
Jesus said in Luke 21:16, that some of his followers would be betrayed and martyred because of their faith. “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death (Luke 21:16). But then Jesus turned around and makes this interesting statement two verses later. “But not a hair of your head will perish (Lk. 21:18). Obviously Jesus is saying that some would die, but others would be spared. You may question but what about deliverance from all harm? What is Jesus really trying to tell us? That there is a hope that even transcends this life. “Stand firm, and you will win life (Lk. 21:19). Of course he was speaking of the life we have in him, which is eternal in nature. In other words, no matter what happens as a child of God, we know that God’s purposes are being worked out in our lives and what is best for each of us will happen.
The apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians that nothing that comes to us causes us to lose. Whether in life or death, God will be with us. Paul fully understood that to live is Christ and to die is gain (cf. Philippians 1:21). That’s the hope we have as a child of God. There is nothing that comes into our lives as God’s children that God does not allow. God is ultimately in charge of our world. The real issue is how we respond to life’s threats and challenges. Do we trust or live in fear?
C. The Psalmist gives us this challenge. We must make the LORD our refuge.
“If you say, ‘The LORD is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent (Ps. 91:9-13).
Lions and serpents both attack from hidden places. Its victims are caught unaware. That is why we need God’s protection. That is why Peter tells us to be alert or vigilant because our enemy is like a roaring lion looking to devour the unsuspecting.
So how does God protect us? The means of God’s protection in our lives come from ministering angels. How should this be understood? Jesus gives us a clear guideline when he was tempted in the wilderness. James Mays points out: “Satan placed Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple and challenged him to jump off to test God’s promise that the angels would bear him up. The temptation was to take the promised protection of God into the control of his own will and act. That would have shifted the power of the promise from the free sovereignty of God to individual willfulness. Jesus saw that as a way to test God, not as the way of trust. Real trust does not seek to test God or to prove his faithfulness.”
God gives us assurances that he is able to answer our prayers.
God now responds to the Psalmist declaration and prayer. In essence God is saying. I can do exactly as you are praying and declaring with confidence. So, then, let us come with confidence to the throne of grace in this time of need. Our father desires to answer the prayers of those who love him.
“Because he loves me, says the LORD, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation (cf. Ps. 91:14-16).
God is saying: I will help you, even in this time of trouble. I will deliver you.
David Damien shares a story while he was there in China at the beginning of this virus of a woman whose entire family had become infected. Though they were believers, she was struggling, battered by the symptoms, she interceded all night. As she was praying she looked down from her apartment window into the street of the city and the Lord began to break her heart as she saw people wandering in the city aimlessly with no hope. She started to cry out in intercession in a manner she had never done before. Instantly a love for the people of her city supernaturally manifested in her. By morning all of her own symptoms had dissipated. At the last report, her entire family, which consisted of four generations who were all live in the one apartment, have recovered from COVID 19.”
God brought healing to them, but in their moment of trouble, a new passion and concern for others was supernaturally birthed in that one heart.
So, what is the message that the Psalmist is conveying to us?
Trust God, don’t give in to fear. Recognize who we are and where we are dwelling. We are sitting with God with enemies under our feet. God is able to deliver. We need to allow God to use us powerfully to minister to those around us. Let us have the same confidence of the three Hebrew friends of Daniel when confronted with the threat of death. ‘Our God is able to deliver, and to remind us He did deliver. Yet, as they stated, even if God doesn’t we, like they did still choose to remain steadfast. As a child of God, we know that our times, our days are in our Father’s hands.
 C. S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays- paraphrased.
 Luther’s Works, Volume 43, 132.
 James L. Mays, Psalms, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 296-297.
 Message from the National House of Prayer, March 2020.
 Christian History Magazine, Issue, 101.
 Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 332.
 James L. Mays, Psalms, 298.
 David Damien. As reported by Message from the National House of Prayer, March 2020.