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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
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St Paul's, Efford
Tony's Reflection 14
What do you make of this article from Time magazine?
Journalist Jeffrey Kluger is writing about the puzzle of his grandfather. He says this:
"I don't know how many unfiltered cigarettes my grandfather smoked, but if you figure 2 packs a day for 75 years it comes out to 1,095,000. He died on Monday, at age 91 and he'd been at work the previous Friday."
Nobody denies that smoking is bad for you. There are exceptions that prove every rule and clearly Jeffrey’s grandfather was one of them.
There is a "rule" in Psalm 91 which, on the surface of it, seems so extraordinary that it makes us think of the exceptions straightaway. In fact, the rule seems so outrageous and makes us think of the exceptions so quickly, we can very easily miss a very precious promise from God in this verse.
"A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it (plague and pestilence) will not come near you." (Verse 7.)
At a time of pandemic, it seems like God is giving a guarantee that those who run close to him for safety won't catch Covid 19.
We then think of Christians we know of who have caught Covid 19. Thinking wider than Covid, we remember the likes of David Watson, the Christian leader who died of cancer in 1984, aged just 51. He was a godly man who had Christians up and down the country praying for his healing. Maybe we open our Bibles and come to Job - a successful businessman, who trusted God and pillar of his local community. He was struck with such a hideous skin disease that even his wife told him he’d be better off dead.
"Well," we say, "just look at these people and the countless others like them. All good believers and all struck by “plague or pestilence”. Whatever verse 7 means, it certainly can’t be a promise of protection from disease.”
We can do all the things that this psalm says. We can live under the shadow of God’s wings. We can be secure in the rampart his loving kindness. We can protect ourselves behind the shield of his faithfulness. But we will all die of something. For many of us, disease will be involved.
What of verse 7, then? What about its promise of protection from disease?
You can look at the Hebrew to find alternative meanings. You can try reading the verse alongside the rest of the psalm. There is no escape from its plain and obvious meaning. As a rule (and there will be exceptions) those who trust in God will be protected from disease.
God regularly protects his people from catching diseases. He often heals them when disease does strike.
I have been healed from a degenerative, paralysing nerve disease. The neurological consultant told me I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was 25… I know some of you reading this reflection could tell similar stories.
You may remember that when we started looking at this psalm, I introduced you to Charles Spurgeon. He lived through a cholera epidemic in London, with a far higher death rate than we have experienced through coronavirus. He called this psalm "the best preservation in times of cholera… I have a heavenly medicine against plague and pest.”
This psalm encourages us to rely on the Lord, the giver of life, for our protection. We may go to doctors, we may take medicine, but ultimately, we know where our protection comes from.
In this life, God does protect those who live close to him from disease.
We need, though, the eternal perspective to appreciate the full truth behind verse 7.
Once that heavenly perspective is in place, we see that God’s protection is totally unfailing. It is 100%. The exceptions to the rule disappear.
“Plague and pestilence” are primary weapons in the armoury of the forces of evil. They wreak fear and havoc across the earth. Why? Because they can rob us of that which we hold most dear. Life itself.
As you live close to God, though, you need have no fear of disease. It cannot touch you. Even if you should die of "plague or pestilence", you will carry on living. Your address is simply moved from an earthly one to a heavenly one.
It can’t even destroy our bodies for good. We will return “dust to dust, ashes to ashes”, but God has promised all who trust in him that he will raise and renew their bodies. This will happen, just as he raised and renewed Jesus mangled, crucified body on Easter Sunday morning. We will come out of our graves, as he emerged from his. With a fantastic, renewed, resurrection body, which will never suffer death or disease again.
As you come close to God, you are often protected from disease in this life.
When you look to eternity and get a full perspective on this promise, you realise it holds 100%. You are utterly invincible …