The Lord says, “No evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent” (Psalm 91:10). But what if evil has befallen me? What if disaster has come into my tent? Does that mean God’s promises don’t apply to me?
Psalm 91 has been close to my heart for over a decade. I memorized it and recited it to my youngest daughter as she fell asleep every night. I assured her that God would protect us, especially after her dad left and our world disintegrated. But even as I said those verses aloud, I wondered how they related to us. Evil had befallen us. Angels hadn’t borne us up. We felt like one of the ten thousand fallen.
I wanted to ask, though I dared not say it to her, “Where was God in this mess?” I wanted to read the Bible and ransack it for promises, but so many of those promises felt distant from me. How was I to interpret the verses promising protection, deliverance, and provision when I was experiencing the opposite?
In the Shadow
Several weeks ago — years after I had first recited the psalm to my daughter — I was reading Psalm 91 again. Encouraged by the opening verses, I just wanted to abide in the shadow of the Almighty. But reading the promises for protection brought up old disappointments.
“I realized that God’s presence in trouble has been far better than the absence of trouble without him.”
I was concerned because my physical struggles were escalating, and my right hand was declining rapidly. New weaknesses had surfaced, and I wanted reassurance from God. I wanted to rest on God’s promises, but this passage made me wonder how.
I felt a familiar grumbling bubbling up inside of me. Did I not make God my dwelling place? Why was evil allowed to befall me? Why hadn’t God guarded and delivered me?
I wrote my concerns in my journal. I wanted to know how to understand this psalm. How was I supposed to read it? Should I even pray it? In the quietness, two different thoughts came to me.
Safe in the Kingdom
First, I needed to rethink my definition of evil and even of rescue and deliverance. Evil may indeed befall us, as “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Job hoped for good, but evil came (Job 30:26). Yet the evil that can befall us is temporary; its effects are limited to this life. The worst evil, which is eternal separation from God, will never come near us. And even in this life, what man means for evil, God intends for our good (Genesis 50:20).
In his last recorded writing, Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:18, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.” Paul was not rescued from death. On the contrary, according to tradition, soon after this letter was written, Paul was beheaded by Nero, an undeniably evil man. But Paul was rescued in the fullest sense as God brought him safely into his heavenly kingdom.
I have been rescued from the consequences of my sin. From eternal damnation. From ever being separated from God. True rescue is this: he has rescued me from the dominion of darkness and brought me into the kingdom of the Son he loves (Colossians 1:13). So as I reconsider the terms evil and rescue, I see that God always protects me from evil and always rescues me.
Prayers and Promises
Second, Psalm 91 is a great passage to pray. It is good and right to cry out to God for provision and protection. He is my heavenly Father, and he cares about every detail of my life. He holds my tears in a bottle and redeems my life from the pit (Psalm 56:8; 103:4). Even the hairs on my head are numbered (Matthew 10:30).
“For all the days ordained for me, the Lord will unfailingly give me what is best, until he brings me safely home.”
He tells me to bring all my concerns to him, which the Psalms model beautifully. They have given me strength to go on and revived me when I was weak. Indeed, the Psalms are the prayer book of the church. But the prayers and promises in Scripture cannot all be interpreted in the way we want. Many of the Psalms are wonderful prayers for this life, but promises only for eternity.
Our Present Help
As I read the remainder of Psalm 91, I am captivated by the end: “When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him” (Psalm 91:15). I sensed the Lord asking, Haven’t I always been with you in trouble? Have I ever left you? Don’t I speak to you? Do you see how I’ve rescued you?
God has gloriously rescued me. He has spoken to me through Scripture. He has been abundantly faithful to his word, and he has never left me.
My discouragement came because I wanted him to deliver me out of trouble on my timetable and to answer all my requests with an immediate “yes.” But as I pondered verse 15, I realized that God’s presence in trouble has been far better than the absence of trouble without him.
Until Earthly Danger Ends
As I read over Psalm 91 now, I see it with a different perspective. God has given me everything I need. I can abide in the shadow of the Almighty forever. True evil will never befall me. Because of Jesus, I will never experience the recompense of the wicked.
When I’m in earthly danger, I can ask that his angels guard me in all my ways. I can count on him as my refuge and my fortress. I can be assured he will be with me in trouble. I can cry out to him for protection. And when I cry out to him, this is my rock-solid comfort: for all the days ordained for me, the Lord will unfailingly give me what is best, until he brings me safely home.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to Desiring God. She blogs at danceintherain.com, although she doesn’t like rain and has no sense of rhythm.