(March 25, 2020) Dr Jim McClure, straight shooting theologian, challenges misquoting of scriptures in these troubling times…
Unquestionably these are exceptional times of national and international stress. Sadly the response of so many people to that stress has been significantly less than commendable! Selfishness and hostility – especially on the ‘battlefield’ aisles of supermarkets – has been on shameful display.
Without doubt this has been a distressing and troubling time and Christians are inevitably asking such questions as:
- Why has God permitted this epidemic?
- Why doesn’t he stop it?
- Is he using it to accomplish some greater purpose?
- Is this evidence that we are living in the End Times? and then of course…
- Can Christians avoid contracting the virus? (the BIG question so many Christians are asking).
Let me first state that I firmly believe that God miraculously heals many people today. I have both personally experienced and witnessed it. It is appropriate to ask God for healing.
But I do not believe that it should be a Christian’s unalienable right to be protected from illness or tragedy as neither the biblical testimony nor that of Christian history substantiates that position.
In the last few weeks many Christians have been placing posts on social media asserting the ‘correct’ position a Christian should take regarding the Coronavirus (or any) worldwide viral infection.
From a hyper-faith position there are those who are telling us that the Bible affirms that God has given solid assurance that his children will be protected from such epidemics and that we need to embrace those promises, fully place our trust in God and the authority of his word and claim deliverance from those diseases that threaten us. I have read such affirmations eg ‘I believe the Lord will protect you and that none of your family will die before their time and that you and your family will live to be a blessing to many, many people!’
A plethora of ‘blessing verses’ has been widely distributed encouraging Christians that they have no need to fear the devastating Coronavirus because God’s Word emphatically declares that we may have protection from it (and all such ‘plagues’) when we ‘name and claim’ it. We are advised to ‘cover’ ourselves in faith with those affirming verses from the Bible and to take comfort in knowing that epidemics or anything that could destroy us have no power over us.
This is further fanned by some ‘popular’ internationally followed preachers who proclaim a misleading, speculative version of Christian belief. Dogmatically in their preaching they misrepresent the scriptures and tickle the ears of their followers by revealing the ‘secrets of healing’ to their followers the things they want to hear.
Isaiah voiced what rebellious children of God only wanted to hear: ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions’ (Isaiah 30:10). This ‘snake oil’ religion is both irresponsible and dangerous.
However such affirmations are not new. In the early 20th century the late John G Lake, who founded ‘Healing Rooms’, made the following comment: ‘I keep my soul in contact with the living God. His Spirit is flowing into my soul and body. No germ will ever attach itself to me for the Spirit of God will kill it’ (Lake died of a stroke at the age of 65).
There is, I suggest, often an overlay of ‘faith superiority’ in many of the articles and sermons which imply that a true believer would not doubt the divine promise of protection.
- For many this has become the measuring stick of the integrity of a person’s faith. (Paul encountered a similar problem with the Christians in Corinth who had made the amount of a person’s speaking in tongues the measuring stick of spirituality).
- As such it can imply, ‘Because I unreservedly believe the statement made in those verses, it indicates that my faith/spirituality is better than yours!’
Repeatedly in many current ‘hyper-faith’ and ‘name-and-claim’ articles an appeal is made to the divine promises in Psalm 91:2-7 and 9-10 which read: ‘I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.’
Note particularly the phrases: ‘Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence … You will not fear … the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday’ … If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the Lord, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.
That sounds very encouraging and conclusive until we look more closely at those Godly promises. A word of caution needs to be made. Those verses – and indeed every verse, chapter and book in the Bible – must be interpreted according to their context and apart from such context we could employ a great variety of verses from the Bible to support almost any crazy idea we may have, however pious some of those ideas may appear to be!
Psalm 91 has a strong relationship with Deuteronomy 32 which refers particularly to God’s covenant relationship with the people of Israel including the affirmation of who he is – ‘He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he’ (v4) – and (verse 24) a warning regarding their disobedience and apostasy – ‘I will send wasting famine against them, consuming pestilence and deadly plague.’
- The theme of Psalm 91 could be appropriately compared to the encouraging affirmation of Paul in Romans 8:28, ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’
- But this is seen in the context of ‘trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword’ that attempts to separate us from the love of Christ’ (Romans 8:35). For Paul the things in which God worked for good includes experiences we would prefer not to encounter!
Psalm 91 is an assertion of God’s providential care for those who love him. It is not a type of mantra that may be used against all adversity that will come our way! Nor is it a divine promise to be used for self-advantage in the face of adversity but an assurance of God’s caring presence and encouragement and his ultimate victory against all dreadful things that may come to us.
To claim those verse as a revelation of an available invisible shield for Christians that will protect them against all the diseases and disasters that people can experience, is to rip them from their overall context and radically to change their intended meaning.
Indeed, Satan did precisely that when he quoted Psalm 91:11-12 when he tried to persuade Jesus to throw himself off the highest point of the temple! (Luke 4:9-10).
Psalm 91 promises a shelter in God for those who trust him. It is a shelter, a refuge, a safe place from those terrible things that would try to rob us from our relationship with God and the assurance of his triumphant love from which nothing can separate us. In that shelter we can have the blessed assurance that, despite all that would seek to rob us from our peace, nothing can ever destroy our eternal heritance. God is our fortress and our hope is secure in him.
Regarding this psalm, C H Spurgeon has written, ‘It will not in all cases ward off disease and death, but where the man is such as the first verse describes, it will assuredly render him immortal where others die.’
The testimony of human experience
In his commentary on Psalm 91 Spurgeon rightly observed that our hope and trust in God will ‘not in all cases ward off disease and death.’ While Psalm 91 does affirm God’s eternal security of those who love him and acknowledge his name (verse 14) who ‘make the Most High your dwelling’ (verse 9) in the midst of the diseases and dangers with which humankind has always had to contend, it does not thereby promise total immunity or a protective shield in the ‘here and now’ from bodily afflictions.
The reality is that throughout history men and women who have loved and trusted the Lord have suffered and died from a variety of illnesses, diseases, epidemics and various other disasters.
- The testimony of human experience confirms that!
- An Old Testament example is found in the Book of Job about whom God said, ‘There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil’ (Job 1:4). Despite such high commendation from God himself, Job experienced profound depths of grief and physical pain. God did not provide a protective blanket for him! But Job never let go of his trust in God!
- Or one could consider the first Christian martyr, Stephen, who was described by Luke in these words, ‘Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people’ (Act 6:8). Stephen was stoned to death while testifying to the goodness, greatness and grace of Almighty God.
- In the years that followed the blood of Christian martyrs so freely flowed that Tertullian wrote around 197 AD, ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’
- We also have the example of Timothy who evidently suffered from some stomach complaint. In his letter to Timothy the apostle Paul did not quote Psalm 91 and tell him to claim his healing from God. Rather, Paul gave Timothy this advice, ‘Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses’ (1 Timothy 5:23).
And right up to today there are innumerable examples of Christians who are suffering greatly not only because of persecution but also because of various illnesses including the Coronavirus.
The ultimate deadly pestilence is that of sin and through our faith in Jesus Christ we have the assurance that in him we have ‘immunity’ from the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15:55-56) and shall live eternally with him even when the body dies.
Yes, we can find refuge in God when the fiercest trials and the harshest plagues come into our lives and disturb our life pattern. But the comfort and consolation we receive will not necessarily remove the troubling thing from us but will rather give us his ‘grace to help us in our time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16).
- Our refuge in God provides a sense of security and peace because we know that we are eternally safe because we are held in the hand of God our loving Father.
- The biblical testimony is that throughout history our Sovereign God at times can and does use disasters to accomplish his predetermined goal.
- Nothing can frustrate the furthering of his purposes. His perspective is greater than our perspective, his will transcends our will and his plans are greater than anything we could ever imagine.
As Isaiah wrote: ‘”For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”’ (Isaiah 55:8-9).
In this we find our peace, consolation and assurance!
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books such as the enlightening Grace Revisited and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
Grace Revisited is highly recommended – as are Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, Overview of the Old and New Testaments, Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, The Masonic Deception, Word of Life in the Old and New Testaments and Interpreting the Letter of James. All are available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and offered free. Link for orders and questions: firstname.lastname@example.org