I’ve always had trouble believing the more concrete promises of God: peace, food, shelter, protection, health. Spiritual ones are easier to fudge. I can’t see whether God has answered someone else’s prayers for discernment, peace of mind, comfort, or other invisible interior states. But I look around at the world where so many people are not peaceful, healthy, or materially secure, at least some of whom presumably are praying to God and are no less worthy than others (like myself) who have these blessings. Faithful people acting as God’s hands in the world can remedy some of these inequities, but not all. So what do we do about the many Old Testament passages where God seems to be promising something He hasn’t delivered?
I was reciting Psalm 91 the other night as part of the Compline (evening) service in the Book of Common Prayer:
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say [b] of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
9 If you make the Most High your dwelling—
even the LORD, who is my refuge-
10 then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
14 “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life will I satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
As usual, I said this psalm with inner reservations that, if consciously articulated, would sound something like this: Statistically, some people will probably receive this kind of protection from God, but there’s no guarantee He will do it for me, since obviously there are other believers who suffer all the wrongs described in the psalm.
And then I thought: If we could look at our situation and logically deduce that we would receive these blessings, God would not need to promise anything. God’s faithfulness is highlighted by the fact that His promises contradict the logic of the world. We believe it against the evidence as proof of how much we trust Him.
I’m rather uncomfortable with this conclusion, having grown up as an intellectual first and a Christian second. It also doesn’t explain why some people don’t get those blessings, as I said before. Perhaps God wants us to get out of the whole game of comparing ourselves to other people as a barometer of whether He is working in our lives.
1 My heart is not proud, O LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD
both now and forevermore.