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Psalm 91 and the coronavirus: How Scripture speaks today

One of the most precious parts of the Bible to many Christians is the book of Psalms. They reflect every kind of human experience – joy, grief, rage, frustration, it's all there. We go to Psalms when we want to find our own lives echoed in Scripture, or when we want words to express what we're feeling.

There's one psalm that seems tailor-made for what we're all going through today. Psalm 91 is a beautiful expression of trust in God during the very darkest of times. The psalmist seems to have written in the context of a plague. He says God is his 'defender and protector' who will 'keep you safe from all hidden dangers and from all deadly diseases' (verse 3). God will 'cover you with his wings' – a lovely image of God as a mother hen with her chicks, like the picture Jesus uses of Jerusalem in Matthew 23.37. Those who trust in God, he says, won't need to fear 'the plagues that strike in the dark or the evils that kill in daylight'. The reference to 'a thousand' and 'ten thousand' dying might mean that the plague was particularly deadly.

We don't know who wrote this psalm or what his exact circumstances were. We do know that there were plagues in Bible times (e.g. 1 Chronicles 21).

But what's interesting about the psalm is how it speaks to the real fear we have about the coronavirus. Many of us are very frightened indeed about what's happening. We might know in our heads that we're very unlikely to die from it, but we still worry.

Of course it's right to be worried up to a point – enough to make us follow government guidelines about social distancing and hand-washing, for instance. But there's a kind of fear that paralyses us and keeps us awake at night, and makes it hard for us just to get through the day. The psalmist speaks to this kind of fear and says, 'Don't worry – God's got your back.'

We know that Christian faith isn't a guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen to us. But a psalm like this assures us of God's faithful care. It tells us that he loves us and protects us, and that in the end, 'I will save them' (verse 16).

It's a psalm for our time.


Author: Mark Woods, 25 March 2020 (Last updated: 30 March 2020)

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