There is something truly poetic about the language used in Psalms. After reading this particular one, I was a little…salty. Verse 10 assures us that if we call on the Lord, who is our refuge, “then no harm will befall us and no disaster will near your tent”. But literally speaking, that is simply not entirely true. Disasters happen to everyone. Even the most devout God-lovers experience harm and destruction from time to time. So what on earth is going on in this Psalm? It’s the age-old question: why do bad things happen to good people?
I have my phone set up to give me AP release updates. I like the Associated Press because these updates are usually one-liners. I get the gist of what is going on in the world and then can click on them individually if I want to know more. In the past week, I’ve gotten updates about several hurricanes and the various destruction caused by each one, an earthquake, a school shooting, a terrorist attack, and a massive deadly fire. That’s a lot of disaster for one week, and I am certain that there are devout believers in these areas. So I’m left to wonder and question the validity of such a claim.
Being an English teacher, I am well-educated in the figurative. So because this is written in verse, I did a little digging. I’m amazed at how similar reading poetry is to the science of archaeology. First, you dig. Then you dig some more. And just when you think you will have to go dig somewhere else you uncover a sliver of something. What is it? A pottery shard? You’re not sure, so you just keep digging.
I looked up the word “fortress” first because it was one of the first words that indicated some kind of conflict. Fortress is a great word, with strictly military origins a military stronghold, especially a strongly fortified town fit for a garrison. I love the diction in this definition. First, you have the idea of military, which means a battle or war is likely, but having anticipated this you are prepared. Then, we’re strongly fortified, which means we are prepared for an attack. If God is our fortress, then that means our towns are fit for garrisons–or housing for troops ready to defend against an attack.
In other words, we are going to be attacked.
We are going to experience a disaster and, sometimes, loss.
This is war, after all.
Awesome. So why does it say that no harm will befall us?
Maybe this is cliche, but again, it’s poetry, so I’m not sure this is entirely literal. Sure, sometimes God does deliver us from the attack. He football punts our enemy right out of our world and we are left without damage. This week alone, I know several people who really should have experienced disaster–flooding, loss of property, maybe even loss of life–because of decisions they made, others made, and natural disasters, which, let’s face it, no one can truly avoid. But they called upon the Lord and were literally delivered.
But I also know people who weren’t–at least not literally delivered. Having lost a husband, a woman experiences disaster and grief to a degree that I can only imagine.
So did God abandon her? What happened to her fortress? Was it destroyed by the enemy? Did her garrison abandon her when she needed it the most? And was it her fault? Could her faith have been stronger?
Questions fire more and more intense the more painful the disaster.
But God did not abandon her, or her husband. She did nothing to ‘deserve’ this fate because the fact is we live in a sin-stained, fallen world. Because of this, we all deserve destruction and disaster. It’s the price we pay for sin. And living in a fallen world.
Wow, that’s depressing. Why would God do that to us?
Well, He didn’t. As with most consequences, we bring it upon ourselves.
No, I’m not blaming the woman for the death of her husband, but humanity for the sins accumulated over the past millennia.
Which brings me back to the verse at hand. If this disaster is inevitable, why isn’t deliverance granted every time we call on his name.
The fact: it is.
Deliverance doesn’t always look the way we think it should. But even in the midst of tragedy, God is delivering us–either from the trial or straight into His arms, where we exit the fallen world and enter the eternal. And if we call on Him, this is really the best deliverance we could ever experience.
Beth Moore said it best, and I’m paraphrasing from her Daniel study here, but she essentially said that God will deliver us one of three ways: From the fire, Through the fire, or Out of the fire Into His arms.
I love prepositions. These four give me such hope:
From the fire: we don’t experience whatever trial it is we are praying to be delivered from. This is only one way he will deliver us, but it’s often the way our brains think must happen to be ‘delivered’; if I’m not healed outright, then God must have abandoned me, right? Not quite…
Through the fire: we sometimes experience disaster and trials, but we are refined when this happens and if we call on Jesus, we’re better on the other side. Stronger. More beautiful.
Out of the fire and Into his arms: as mortals, we will die. Somehow, someway, someday. But those who call upon Jesus…well this is really what true deliverance is. The best deliverance. Rest. Hope. Peace. Finally.
So the psalmist is right: “he will call upon me and I will answer Him…and show Him my salvation” (15a; 16a). One way, or another, God is always there.