Doesn’t Psalms 91 promise protection from harm?
Thank you for this opportunity to send in questions. I read through another question on your site, one about why God allows suffering, innocent children to die, etc. Your response was enlightening. Thank you.
I would like to find out if you know why God actually allows the suffering (let's say a child being raped). Why doesn't He stop it, change circumstances, cause someone to help, etc.? I am aware that God will not impose on your free will. But it leaves me to question if God does indeed protect us. Is it only when we pray for protection? Is it only in accordance with His will? What if this child's parents prayed for the protection of their child and that child was still raped? How do you rationalize that?
It leaves me to wonder if all the miserable things that happen in this world are allowed because people don't pray for protection. Psalms says: "Because thou has made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, Thy habitation. There shall no evil befall thee." I'm sure Job made God his habitation but evil came his way. How do you make sense of that?
I guess through all of that what I'm asking is: Is praying for safety and following the Bible a sure-fire way to ensure no harm befalls you? And how would you rationalize it if harm did befall you?
One rule of understanding the Bible is that when you run into a conflict, then the cause is most often due to your assumptions than what is actually stated.
Nowhere in the Bible are God's people told they will have a life free from troubles. Jesus warned people that they would be persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12), they would face divisions in their families (Matthew 10:34-36), and James said that there would be trials to bear (James 1:2-4). Therefore, there are assumptions you are making that are not found in the Bible. You quoted from Psalms 91, so let's look at that more closely. Before we begin, I want you to notice that there is no mention of prayer in the entire psalm. Thus, this is not about whether a person prays or not.
"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty" (Psalms 91:1).
This is not a general promise for all people. It is a promise of safety for people who stick close to God. We have to abide (live) with God and He will abide with us (I John 4:15-16). This describes a close fellowship, so close that it is as if we are living in God's very shadow (Psalms 32:7). But notice that it is man's choice to live in God's shadow or not. "The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe" (Proverbs 18:10).
"I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!"" (Psalms 91:2)
The writer declares that he has a relationship with God. He is "my God." It is in his God that he has placed his trust. But notice that God is his refuge and fortress. When do you need a fortress? It is when you have enemies and need a place of safety (Psalms 18:2). This psalm is not about never having problems; otherwise, there would be no need for a fortress. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalms 46:1).
The psalmist then turns to the reader's safety. Notice the use of the singular "you" through Psalms 91:3-13. This applies to every follower of God.
"For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence" (Psalms 91:3).
Snares are traps laid by evil men (Psalms 140:1-5). Deadly diseases strike people unaware. These are not troubles that personal strength can prevent. But God does shield us.
"He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark" (Psalms 91:4).
The imagery is of a mother bird protecting her young. God protects you because He cares for you. God is trustworthy. Our confidence in Him is our shield.
It doesn't mean a Christian won't suffer from an evil trap or get sick. The psalmist is saying we don't need to worry about such things. God protects us from more things than we realize. And when it doesn't happen, it is because there is some need. This is the attitude Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego expressed to the king. "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. "If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up" " (Daniel 3:16-18). Remember that Jesus died by crucifixion after being beaten. Why should we expect no harm to ourselves?
"You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day; of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon" (Psalms 91:5-6).
It doesn't matter the type of problem. It could be mental anxiety (terrors of the night), physical harm by people (the arrow), disease (pestilence), or disasters (destruction). There are things that scare people. A new disease breaks out and people panic or some terrorist group launches weapons of mass destruction. Some people live their lives in constant fear, but the Christian doesn't (Matthew 6:25).
"A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not approach you" (Psalms 91:7).
It doesn't matter how big the problem is, or how close it gets. God is still able to protect His people.
"You will only look on with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked" (Psalms 91:8).
Justice will come to the evil-doer (Galatians 6:8).
"For you have made the LORD, my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place. No evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your tent" (Psalms 91:9-10).
We have to stay close to God, making His dwelling our dwelling place. When we learn from God, then there is true peace (Philippians 4:9,11). It is not that there will be no disasters, but that the disasters aren't significant. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35-39).
"For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone" (Psalms 91:11-12).
God will watch over you. This is the passage Satan used to tempt Jesus (Matthew 4:5-7), but notice that Satan skipped over "to guard you in all your ways." Recall that this psalm is about the person who makes God his refuge. He follows in God's shadow. God's ways are his ways (Psalms 91:1-2, 9). This is not a promise of protection for anything I choose to do, nor is it a promise to protect me from careless or reckless behavior.
"You will tread upon the lion and cobra, the young lion and the serpent you will trample down" (Psalms 91:13).
It isn't that God's people merely avoid or survive disasters. We triumph over them, crushing them. "For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil" (Romans 16:19-20). Paul saw this occur in his own life. "At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!" (II Timothy 4:16-18).
"Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With a long life I will satisfy him and let him see My salvation." (Psalms 91:14-16).
Because a person clings to God in love, God will give him security. Knowing God's name is a way to say that we recognize God's authority. For an example of this, the apostles asked by what authority they acted (Acts 4:7) and they replied that they acted in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:10). To call up a name is to claim a right that was authorized by that person. For example, Paul called upon the name of Caesar during his trial to invoke his right to be tried before Caesar (Acts 25:11-12). God saves those who call upon him. "I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'This is My people'; and each one will say, 'The LORD is my God'" (Zechariah 13:9). But notice that they go through fire and are tested.
God also promises a long life (or length of days). This is not necessarily a long physical life. "He asked life from You, and You gave it to him - length of days forever and ever" (Psalms 21:4; see also Psalms 23:6). We don't live forever on this earth. But it is a promise of having a complete, full, and satisfying life, with eternal life following. "For length of days and long life and peace they will add to you. ... Length of days is in her right hand, In her left hand riches and honor" (Proverbs 3:2,16).
The point of Psalms 91 is not that the follower of God will never face troubles. It is a promise that no trouble can truly harm a child of God. "As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:36-37).