What do we do when the Bible seemingly contradicts our life experience? How can we reconcile what God says with what we see happen, when the two don’t match?
How do we handle these verses? Does it lead to a crisis of faith? I know a number of former Christians who have lost their faith over these issues. Do we just accept that the Bible is a bunch of nice thoughts, but it doesn’t apply to real life? Do we conclude that God isn’t to be trusted? Or do we skip over the hard parts, ignore the promises, and muddle through until we die? That’s what I’ve always done. In fact, I have a whole list of questions that I plan to ask God “when I get there.”
My don’t-rock-the-boat solution has satisfied me for many years, but not any more. Maybe I’m getting more demanding as I get older. Maybe I want a better answer when discussing God with a nonbeliever. Most likely, however, it’s the Holy Spirit pushing me to get my questions answered. I reread Psalm 91 a few days ago and it lodged in my brain like a chicken bone in my throat. Psalm 91 is full of promises of God’s protection, but I have a hard time believing they are all true. (Not that God doesn’t protect us, often, but does He do it every time in every situation? Ask the Syrian Christians for starters.)
Verses 3 and 6 say He will save us from contagious diseases:
Surely he will save you … from the deadly pestilence. … You will not fear … the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
But I know lots of people who get sick, including me! And some of them have died from their sickness.
Verses 9 – 10 read:
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
But I know plenty of devout believers who have suffered harm and disaster. Or doesn’t something like “get kidnapped and raped by ISIS” or “lose all your worldly belongings in a huge wildfire” count?
God promises in verse 16, “With long life I will satisfy him.” But I lost Christian friends who were in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. They didn’t live long lives.
There are dozens of verses that address both persecution and our expectation of suffering. Jesus talked about it. So did Paul, Peter, and James. It was a fact of life in the early church, and there are more Christians being martyred now than ever before. So how do you reconcile our sure expectation of suffering with being under God’s protection?
After lots of prayer and some commentary reading, I think I finally understand what this psalmist was saying. As with so many difficult verses, it’s a matter of how we see things vs. how God sees them. We look at events and circumstances with human eyes. We want life to be safe and secure here and now. God takes an eternal perspective. So what if we’re having a hard time? He’ll use those difficulties to help us mature in our faith. So what if we die? We’ll be with Him. In these verses, God is promising that in the end we will be safe and secure with Him.
As one commentary asked, “From what sufferings are the saints delivered? From what dangers and destruction are we delivered?” Not the ones we experience on earth, but rather the suffering, danger, and destruction we would face after we die, had we not sheltered under God’s protection in Jesus.
Part of my answer came in the next-to-last verse: “I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.” Note the line—“I will be with him in trouble…” God isn’t saying that we won’t experience trouble. Rather, He assures us that we won’t have to walk through it alone.
And part of my answer came as God helped me review my own life. Sure, everything hasn’t been perfect.We’ve had our share of trouble, just like anyone else. However, at no time did we ever feel abandoned to that trouble. Along with the problems, we’ve had the presence of God taking us through.
I can look at what other people are going through, and think that I could never endure that. But others look at Pete and I and think the same thing about us. It’s not that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. No way! It’s that God doesn’t give us more than He can handle. In that sense, we do walk in His protection, we are sheltered under His wings.
I’ll never forget what God told Pete immediately after he was hit by a speeding car in a very serious accident. (Suffice to say that Pete was killed, but God raised him from the dead and sent him back to continue his life on earth; you can read all about it here.) Understandably, Pete didn’t want to go back—he wanted to stay there with God. Not only was God’s presence incredible, but with a shattered femur, going back meant pain—lots of pain. At that point, God told Pete two things that changed his perspective. The first was hard—“Stop whining!”
Pete immediately responded with “But it hurts!” Then God told him something that made everything all right: “You know how wonderful it is here with me? Well, I am with you on earth just as much as I am with you here in Heaven!”
At which point Pete relaxed and realized, “Boy, this is going to be fun!” (I got quite a number of inquiries from his hospital visitors—“Is he really okay? He’s a mess, but he keeps smiling!” That’s the kind of protection and refuge the psalmist is talking about. God is with us, and nothing else truly matters.