I grew up afraid.
Thunder, lightning, roller coasters, car crashes, plane crashes, tornadoes—loud, violent, terrifying scenarios that kept me up at night, or in the guidance counselor’s office at school any time it stormed. I was afraid of loud things, things that threatened to crash into my life and take away someone or something I loved. I would read Bible verses that promised me safety, plucked out of the psalms and taped on my bathroom mirror in college—-verses like these from Psalm 91: “Because you have made the LORD—my refuge, the Most High—your dwelling place, no harm will come to you” (vv.9–10).
That’s a formula I tend to like, because it gives me the perception of control; I make the Lord my “refuge,” and no harm will come to me. But many years of walking quietly in sadness with people I love have taught me there is no equation to prevent suffering. Sometimes storms enter our lives quickly like thunderclouds from the west. Sometimes they sneak in, just as the sun rises quietly in the east. But always, they come, just as they came for our Savior, Jesus Christ. When the devil tempts Jesus in the wilderness, the enemy quotes Psalm 91: “He will give his angels orders concerning you, to protect you, and they will support you with their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” (Luke 4:10–11).
In their book, The Songs of Jesus, Tim and Kathy Keller wrote: “The devil wants us to think that God’s promises have failed if he lets us suffer. But the psalm later clarifies that God will save us ‘in trouble’ and not from it.” In other words, we do not need a refuge from the quiet, the sadness, brokenness, and pain; we need a refuge from the storm that is inevitably coming (John 16:33). Suffering was sewn into our existence at the fall, but Psalm 91 shouts into the rushing wind:
“The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say concerning the LORD, who is my refuge and my fortress …
His faithfulness will be a protective shield” (vv.1–2,4).
I am thankful for the whole of Scripture, and for the ways it quiets my soul on the hardest of days. The riches of Psalm 91 are vast, with so many metaphors and names for God, calling us backward and forward through the Old and New Testaments. It does so beautifully what the whole of Scripture does: it paints a picture of our hopeless existence apart from God, and it beckons us into the fullness of life in relationship with Him. A life that, though marked with suffering, is ultimately guaranteed and secured by the personhood and work of Jesus Christ.