It’s the last day of our Summer in the Psalms together… the last six weeks have flown by. So much has happened in our own lives, the lives of our friends and family, and in the world around us.
Some of us have been talking about the psalms we’ve read – particularly the ones that confidently claim God’s miraculous protection, His divine intervention, supernatural empowerment, healing, provision, or grace.
Sometimes these psalms can be so comforting, so faith-building, so encouraging. But other times…
Well, what if that’s not our experience?
How can we wrap our heads around verses that say we won’t fear, when sometimes we do feel afraid?
Or verses that say no harm will come to us, when harm does in fact come to us? When we do encounter suffering, hardship, heartache, and pain?
How can we reconcile the difference between the wonderful things we know to be true about the nature and character of God – His “great and precious promises” to us – and the awful things we sometimes experience?
I think it helps to remember that those who wrote down the words of Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, were living this reality, this conflict, this paradox themselves.
They were living between the now and the not yet. The promise and the fulfillment. The daily and the eternal perspective.
They knew the struggle, and it was as real for them as it is for us.
I do believe there are answers to our questions – even the hardest ones. But I don’t want to be glib or cliché.
I believe there are answers that are true, but not necessarily applicable to our particular situation – and it’s wrong to apply them across the board indiscriminately.
I believe that sometimes more than one answer is correct. There can be more than one meaning or interpretation. It’s “Yes and,” instead of “either /or”…
I also believe some answers we simply won’t get this side of Heaven – and even if we did, having them wouldn’t make as much difference as we think it would.
So with these caveats – and more to come — here are five things to know about the “precious promise” verses:
1. We absolutely can take them literally (sometimes) because (sometimes) God does literally physically protect us, deliver us, or provide for us in miraculous ways. It happens all the time – we’ve all heard other people’s stories and most of us have a few of our own.
2. We can, of course, take them “spiritually” – knowing that ultimately we are protected, delivered, rescued, provided for eternally in Jesus. As Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ [He is my source of joy, my reason to live] and to die is gain [for I will be with Him in eternity].” (Philippians 1:21 AMP) “Fearless now, I trust in God; what can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 56:11 MSG; see also Luke 12:4-7)
3. Some of what we read as promises are actually wise proverbs or godly principles to live by. Or they are conditional: IF we keep our eyes on Him, IF we choose to walk in obedience to Him, IF we obey His Word, then we can expect… So if we want to experience the reward or blessing, we should practice the prescribed behavior.
But it’s important to remember that God’s love, His mercy, and His grace are unconditional. And that “the rain falls on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:44-45) Sometimes God allows good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Job’s suffering was not a result of any failure in his spiritual life. Neither was Elizabeth’s.
4. Some passages of Scripture address specific people and circumstances, specific eras in Biblical history and what God was doing in and through His people at that time – and some passages are prophetic, speaking of events that would happen centuries later or have yet to be fulfilled.
Then again, the Scripture itself teaches that while it spoke to the people it was written to at the time, and often was prophetic about events in the future (for instance, in the life of Jesus), it was also meant to encourage us and speak to us today. How do we understand this verse or that verse and how to apply it to our lives? We study it carefully and we ask God’s Spirit to show us what it means for us. (Romans 15:4, 2 Corinthians 3:16, Galatians 3:8, 2 Peter 1:19-21)
5. We can always pray any verse of Scripture fully believing that God CAN and very well MAY miraculously deliver us or rescue us or supernaturally provide for us… He is (and has) already done so, more than we know. But in this instance, “even if He does not” (Daniel 3), everything will still be okay. Because it’s not our will, but His that we want done. We choose to trust in His sovereignty – choose to trust that He truly loves us and knows what’s best for us, and that anything we suffer now is “nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.” (Romans 8:18)
We know that He causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him and that He is remaking us into the beautiful image of His Son Jesus (Romans 8:28) Anything and everything that happens to us becomes part of this process.
As The Message paraphrases this passage, “With God, how can we lose?… Nothing fazes us, because Jesus loves us.”