Are God’s People Subverting His Message in a Time of Difficulty?by Timothy Zebell on May 5, 2020
Is God’s message to America being subverted by His own people? In the midst of a pandemic, have His people replaced God’s remedy for an infected nation with something more palatable? It may be that we have claimed a promise that does not belong to us, and we are preaching a message that is unsuited to this crisis.
Sometimes God allows difficulty to come upon a nation as a means of alerting the people to the destructive nature of their disobedience. In the book of Amos, we read about how God lifted His hand of blessing and protection to rouse a spirit of repentance within the nation of Israel by sending disease, among other difficulties. Nevertheless, the people refused to repent (Amos 4:6–11). Hundreds of years before Amos, God told Israel’s king that the day would come when God would send disease upon the land to elicit a spirit of repentance, “When I … send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will for give their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:13–14).
God’s remedy for an infected nation is straightforward. The people must align their hearts with the heart of God. This is accomplished through humility, prayer, seeking after God, and repentance. But this often requires the hard work of changing habits and the pain of letting go of things we enjoy. It is far more attractive to believe that God’s love drives Him to protect His people unconditionally.
Faced with an invisible enemy that is killing thousands, we are today hearing how God promises protection from widespread disease. By selectively quoting Psalm 91, these promises of safety appear to be unconditional:
He will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you. … no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home (Psalm 91:3–7, 10, NLT).
However, these verses are devoid of their context. They conveniently omit the opening verse which frames this entire psalm, “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psa. 91:1, NLT).
Never does God promise protection from difficulty to those who are not obedient. Instead, He promises discipline (Heb. 12:6–7). Only those who are faithful in their walk with the Lord can be fully assured in this time of difficulty. This is reaffirmed throughout the Psalm:
“If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home” (Psa. 91:9–10, NLT).
“The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name’” (Psa. 91:14, NLT)
“When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them” (Psa. 91:15, NLT).
Far too many of God’s own people are dwelling outside of God’s shelter. They have chosen to selectively follow God’s commands. Rather than holding fast to God in love, they hold Him at bay until their time of need. As such, they cling to the promises in Psalm 91 with a false assurance that they are directed toward them.
These promises of God’s are conditional. They are for those who are faithful and obedient. As such, they do not belong to many of today’s Christians who are claiming them. Instead, it may be that God is using this time of difficulty to drive these very Christians into His place of shelter.
Could it be that God is attempting to draw the hearts of His people back to Himself during this pandemic? As we read in 2 Chronicles 7:14, it may be the hearts of God’s own people that He is seeking to humble through this time of difficulty more so than those who are lost. It may be that God is calling His people to seek His face and to separate themselves from a lifestyle and routine that is at odds with God’s moral commands. What if God is using this crisis to prepare His people to once again lead by example in this nation?
If this is true, then we thwart God’s efforts when we choose to focus on God’s peace and protection to the exclusion of His holiness. God is loving, and He is eager to offer peace and protection to those who abide in His will, but He is also willing to permit difficulties to come upon us unhindered if we choose to wander from His refuge. Likewise, we subvert God’s messaging when we assume He is endeavoring to alert the lost in our nation rather than His own wayward people.
Before we rush to promise peace and safety, let us pause to consider whether God may be calling us to repentance. And lest we rush to preach repentance to those outside the church, let us remember that God’s remedy for an infected nation in 2 Chronicles 7:13–14 begins with His own people re-examining their hearts. Rather than a judgment upon a lost nation, this could be a mercy of God toward His people. This may be God’s effort to shift our focus from Psalm 91:10 to verse 9, “If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter…” This could be God’s plea for His people to hold fast to Him in love above all else and to again dwell in His presence so that He can once again serve as our refuge and strength.