Psalm 91: Because I Said So

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.

Psalm 131

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.

4 comments on “Psalm 91: Because I Said So

  1. Perhaps the differences in getting what one wants (meaning: peace, things, change, or whatever…) and someone remaining as they are (meaning not getting what they want or not having some change occur) is simply(and therefore also complicated) the matter of Choices. The choice to fling that wish or dream or prayer or thought into the universe and then once it is done, then saying “Okay, that’s done…now, I am going to believe it will happen…” and then making the choice to say “While I’m waiting, this is what I will do: first, I will search for what I can be grateful for, then I will put one foot in front of the other and make choices with every step:
    I choose not to give in to the same things that put me in the same situations time and again; I choose to eat that veggie plate instead of the whopper with cheese and fries; I choose to not have that cig; I choose not to drink that glass of booze that will lead to more than I should have; I choose not to retaliate when so and so pricks my skin to get a rise out of me; I choose to get out of bed, thank the skies for another day, and then make choices with each step”…of course, those all aren’t necessarily my own personal choices, but only examples…I don’t smoke, I don’t drink to excess(any longer), I don’t eat whoppers with cheese *laughing*

    There is this pull for us humans,I think, no matter what one believes– just who is in control? who is in charge here? Some believe a god is in charge – and if we only please him or her just right, our lives would be perfect; therefore, if our lives are not perfect, then we are displeasing god, and if we are displeasing God, then we are bad Bad, and unworthy, and if we are unworthy-then we don’t deserve good things. Then there are those who say, no! We are our own god, we are the masters of our fate, of our own personal universe, we are responsible for whatever happens in our lives; and I suppose there are those in between who think there is a supreme force who placed us here, but we have free will and free thought to decide our fates, and the Supreme Being watches and rarely intervenes.

    I do believe we attract negative to us –the more we become trapped in that negative, the more the universe gives it to us…imagine Pig Pen (of charlie brown fame) with all the dust and dirt clouding around him, everywhere he goes, there is dust and dirt–it is a part of him, a part of who he is…so then sometimes we become surrounded, trapped, by our own negativity.

    Oh, I could go on and this is too long already!

  2. profpk says:

    My favorite psalm. I read Compline almost every night, and the daily office in the morning. First, you have to reread Job’s answer to God. Second, you have to remember that Jesus was selective about whom he cured miraculously.

    Why, we don’t know. But he did
    promise eternal life to all who
    believe. Is that not what the
    psalmist is reaching for? That
    faith protects us always from
    the tragedies of earthly life by
    placing them in the context of
    union with Him.

    BTW, we have a mutual friend in

  3. Jendi Reiter says:

    A good reminder – the promise of eternal life helps put our differing earthly fortunes in perspective. It’s what allowed St. Paul to say he was content in whatever state he found himself, even as he strove to preserve his life and freedom during various episodes of persecution, as we read in Acts.

    This insight adds another layer of meaning to Psalm 91, but it’s too tempting for me to let the heavenly meaning eclipse the earthly one. (Not that you are arguing for that, of course.) Did the Jews of the Psalmist’s time believe in an afterlife of union with God? Perhaps my mind would rest more content if I said “it’s talking about heaven” and stopped worrying about why this person apparently gets more blessings than that one. But I think I need to find some way to do that without downplaying the promises of God for the here and now.

  4. just wanted to mention this post doesn’t center correctly utilizing safari browser

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