Psalm 91 offers great assurance to those who will entrust themselves to the care of God. Designated as one of the “Night Psalms” in the Benedictine liturgy, this psalm is regularly used in the office of compline, the prayer of completion at the end of the day. Many threats lurk for humans—pestilence, the violence of war, and terror of the unknown in the dark. In the face of these, God promises deliverance:
When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation (vv. 15-16).
In the face of this seemingly unequivocal pledge, a protest rises from the lips of those who have witnessed too much unrelieved suffering, too much injustice, and too many lives foreshortened by tragic circumstances. What can this psalm mean for the hungry child in Darfur, the homeless in Haiti, and the mentally ill sitting in jail in Kansas City?
Psalm 91 is no “magical guarantee against danger, threat, or difficulty,” in the words of J. Clinton McCann, Jr., in The New Interpreter’s Bible. Some have tried to use this psalm foolishly, pretending that the wounds of the world do not affect those who know God’s name. Rather, McCann suggests that a trustful relationship with God is deliverance. When we place ourselves and all of our life circumstances in God’s hands, we can live “in the shelter of the Most High.” That dwelling is not isolated from the extremities of life, but God secures meaningful life through God’s own faithful presence. In that place, one learns to call upon God, believing God will respond—and to call upon God for the sake of others as well, especially those who do not know how to pray for themselves.
Molly T. Marshall
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