Faith and False Security
Scriptures: Psalm 91, Psalm 30
When I was in Junior High, I heard a story in Sunday School
about a soldier in Vietnam who was hit by an enemy bullet. You may have heard the same story about a soldier in World War II or Korea. I think it has been passed on from war to war. The soldier was hit in the chest and knocked down, but to his surprise he was unhurt. After checking himself over, he discovered that the bullet had lodged in a small New Testament that he carried in his shirt pocket. When he opened it, he found that the bullet had stopped pointing to a verse from Psalm 91. It said, "A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not come near you." Actually it got quite near. In those pocket New Testaments the psalms are in the back, so there wasn't much Bible left between him and that bullet.
I don't know if this story is true or not, but it had quite
an impact on me as a young teenager because both my father and my brother did tours of duty in Vietnam. It meant a lot to me to think that they had special protection, that God would keep them from harm.
Which is the theme of Psalm 91. We sang about it in the song we did
earlier in the service-"On Eagle's Wings" which is based on Psalm 91:
You shall not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies
Though thousands fall about you, near you it shall not come. For he will raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of
Make you to shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of his hand. It is a beautiful psalm. There is just one problem. It is
quoted twice in the New Testament, both times by Satan. You may recall the story. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and the devil takes Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple and says, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written." then Satan quotes Psalm 91:11-12: "'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"
Jesus replies by quoting another scripture: Deuteronomy
6:16-"Do not put the Lord your God to the test."
The first lesson here is that we should be careful about
quoting individual Bible verses without taking into account their context. Even Satan can quote Bible verses. It is the Bible as a whole that we must embrace as our authority for faith and life. That's why in our church we spent much of last year reading through the Bible in 365 stories. We must embrace the Bible as a whole in order to discover in it the God revealed through Jesus Christ.
That said, Psalm 91 still poses a challenge. It is true, as
Psalm 91 says, that God is our refuge and fortress. We believe that. It is true, as Psalm 91 says, that under God's wings you will find refuge. We believe that. But that does not mean we can take God's protection for granted.
I like to compare Psalm 91 to Psalm 30. Psalm 30 starts out
with a song of praise for God's deliverance. Verses 1: "I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up and did not let my foes rejoice over me." Like the soldier with the New Testament in his pocket, this person has been saved by God from death.
But now listen to verses 6-7: "As for me, I said in my
prosperity, 'I shall never be moved.'
By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain." Do you see what has happened here? Faith has become false security. The person thinks that because God is with him or her, nothing bad will happen.
Then, out of the blue, comes the end of verse 7: "You hid
your face; I was dismayed." Did you notice how jarring that was when Ina read it? How out of the blue? Just like that the person's world has collapsed. Just like that the psalm writer suddenly feels abandoned by God.
It often works that way. Just when everything seems to be
going okay, just when you are starting to relax, the phone rings in the middle of the night, the lap report comes back malignant, you get a layoff notice at work or divorce papers from a spouse. And suddenly, just like the writer of Psalm 30, you are in anguish. Verses 8-10: "To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication: 'What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!'"
You can hear the desperation in that plea. This is not the
prayer of someone confidently expecting their New Testament to stop all bullets. This is the prayer of someone scared to death and desperately turning to God for help.
And here is the good news: God is with us in those moments.
Verses 11: "You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy."
The strength and refuge God gives is not an exemption from
trauma or suffering; it is a strength made perfect in weakness, a faith that turns even grief into hope.
This is actually true even in Psalm 91. Think about verse
7: "A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand." If soldiers are falling at your side and at your right hand, they are probably not all enemy soldiers. Some of them, maybe even most of them, are your own troops, your own comrades. I have heard soldiers tell about losing a comrade at their side in a battle, and it is very traumatic. Those are deeply wounding experiences, even when you are not the person hit by the bullet.
The psalm also describes other things that can be genuinely
frightening: the arrow that flies by day-think shrapnel from a terrorist bomb; the pestilence that stalks in darkness-think Zika virus; the destruction that wastes at noonday-think car accidents or earthquakes. The psalm does not imply that we are exempt from these things, only that we need not fear them. Verse 15: "When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble."
In the days after the 9/11 attack a music group called Mannheim
Steamroller recorded a song called "Silent Night 9/11." In the background was the music of "Silent Night," but over the music a narrator spoke these words:
You say you will never forget where you were when you heard the news on Sept. 11, 2001. Neither will I. I was on the 110th floor in a smoke filled room with a man who called his wife to say "Goodbye." I held his fingers steady as he dialed. I gave him the peace to say, "Honey, I am not going to make it, but it is okay. I am ready to go." I was with his wife when he called as she fed breakfast to their children. I held her up as she tried to understand his words and as she realized he wasn't coming home that night. I was in the stairwell of the 23rd floor when a woman cried to Me for help. "I have been knocking on the door of your heart for 50 years," I said. "Of course I'll show you the way home-only believe in Me now." .
I was on all four of those planes . in every seat . with every prayer. I was with the crew as they were overtaken. I was in the very hearts of the believers there, comforting and assuring them that their faith has saved them.
I was in Texas . Kansas . London. I was standing next to you when you heard the terrible news. Did you sense Me? I want you to know that I saw every face. I knew every name .. Some met me for the first time on the 86th floor. Some sought Me with their last breath. Some couldn't hear Me calling to them through the smoke and flames; "Come to Me . this way . take my hand." Some chose . for the final time . to ignore Me. But I was there.
September 11, 2001 was not the end of the journey for you. But someday your journey will end. And I will be there for you as well. Seek Me now .. I will be in the stairwell of your final moments.
That's the difference between faith and false security.