Surely God will save you from the fowler’s snare. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day. – Psalm 91:3-5, abbreviated (NIV)
We were solving the world’s problems, aided by beer, and making good progress until we came to the suffering of people in Ukraine, the murder of a trans woman two towns over, and a neighbor whose husband with dementia is missing.
Somebody sighed, “I don’t know how people who don’t believe in God get through these things.” Which was a little embarrassing because I’d been thinking the opposite: “I don’t know how people who go through these things still believe in God.”
I learned this much as a pastor: suffering kills faith as often as it strengthens it. Some suffering people feel uplifted and held by God. Others feel abandoned by God. For some, faith confirms. For others, it defrauds.
Sometimes Christians too casually offer God as strength, solace, and solution, as if saying the word ‘God’ settles things. But it doesn’t always. For some people, the ‘surely’ of this psalm is a false promise. ‘Surely’ mocks their pain. And you mustn’t say that’s because there’s a weakness in them, a fault in their theology or trust or character. You can’t blame the victim.
To question the psalm’s ‘surely’ may seem faithless, but it could also be an act of courage. Whatever it is, it’s at least, surely, a great mystery. A mystery to be respected, not argued into submission. A mystery to be plumbed, not judged. A mystery that deserves the company of our patient, wondering love.
Stay near us in the mystery of pain and faith, O God. Keep us near each other, too, whether our prayer is ‘surely’ or ‘surely not.’