From Jeff Banks
When you’re in trouble, a Christian friend told me recently, remember 911—Psalm 91:1, that is. “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” It’s an encouraging verse for those who find themselves in a time of need, conveying the strength and solidity and hospitality of God. What does it mean, though, to say that God is a “shelter” amid the storms of life?
At first glance, it seems to mean that God’s people escape suffering during such storms. “Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence,” the psalmist writes (v. 3). And also: “If you say, ‘the Lord is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you” (v. 9). The psalmist seems to imagine God as one who protects us from diseases and pain.
If Jesus is our model, though, the psalm can’t mean that we escape the pain that this world inflicts. In our Gospel reading from John, Jesus is flogged, humiliated, slapped, and crucified. Jesus did not escape pain, and foretells that his disciples will be “hated by everyone because of me” (Matthew 10:22). The disciples won’t escape it, and we won’t either.
Rather, Psalm 91 refers to a deeper kind of protection that can be ours. Like Jesus, we might not be spared from suffering and even death; but because of his death, we are saved from Satan’s snare and from the ultimate harm of being separated from God. The cross gives us hope that, in the end, even severe suffering cannot separate us from God. And even now, by the power of the Spirit, God, whom we know in the One who rose with scars still on his wrists, “will be with [us] in trouble” (v. 15). His presence is shelter enough.
My wife, Anna, and I live in East Cambridge and are proud dogparents to Ginger. As an InterVarsity campus minister, I work with grad students at Harvard and drink way too much tea.