The ongoing COVID 19 pandemic has Christians and non-Christians alike worried and on edge. These fears are fed by the reality that the basic facts of this virus (transmission and mortality rates, for example) are still poorly understood and there is no vaccination against the spreading contagion. However, Christians have a defense that is not available to non-believers.
The most direct evidence of this is found in Psalm 91. These 16 verses speak generally about the Lord acting as our defense and specifically mentions protection from infectious disease 3 times. This is in addition to at last 4 references to being protected from danger and evil. A full reading of the text gives a blessed assurance of security. (This is the ESV.)
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
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.
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,
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.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
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.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
Which Testament is this in?
The critical point in this fantastic promise of safety is found in the first line of the last stanza (verse 14) where we are told that God will do this “because he holds fast to me in love.” This is a remarkable statement coming from an Old Testament writer operating under the covenant of the law where “do good to get good” was the normal mode of operation.
Instead of an “if you do this, then” formulation typically found in passages based on law, the blessings of Psalm 91 are unconditional. They come from God because we hold fast to Him in love. Obedience or service is not mentioned as a condition. Instead the entire psalm describes benefits that come from a relationship with God based on love.
An interesting perspective is gained by considering the possibility that the love referred to is an understanding of God’s love for us, not our love for God. This is in keeping with 1 Peter 5:7 where we told that God cares for us, and so we should cast our concerns on Him. (Which is another good piece of Scriptural advice when dealing with COVID 19).
Of course, 1 John 4:19 identifies God’s love for us as the root of our love for God. Just like any plant cut off from its root dies, so too would our love for God wither if it were cut off from the understanding that God loves us. While we might protest that this is impossible, if it happened to the Ephesians (Revelation 2:4) it can happen to us.
Is this real?
The idea that Christians have nothing to fear from COVID 19 because God will protect us from the virus may strike some as laughable. However, the whole idea of God becoming man and dying for our sins is considered laughable by many. The bigger issue is that this Psalm asks us to do something that makes us very uncomfortable.
C.S. Lewis said it best. “The state of having to depend solely on God is what we all dread the most.” This is the appeal of many Christian religions which add a healthy dose of works to their message of salvation. While it is straightforward to reject that error, it is still a challenge to depend on God’s love to protect against a pandemic.
It is fitting that the numbers 19 and 91 are in reverse order, because God’s wisdom runs in the exact opposite direction from that of mankind. Our “wisdom” looks like absolute foolishness to God according to 1 Corinthians 3:19. The simple reversed order of the numbers also serves as a useful memory tool.
When you see “COVID 19”, remember “Psalm 91”. When you see fear, remember confidence. When you are told that medical systems are unable to cope with this crisis, remember that the purpose of Scripture is to fully equipped us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). Psalm 91 is the perfect example of that truth for today.