Early 2009 my high school sweetheart walked out of a 4 year marriage, carrying my understanding with her. I spent that year trying to remember the promises I believed in, but by the end of the year I was diagnosed with stage three cancer and considering the prospects of refusing treatment. For old times sake I chose life one more time and soon found myself plugged into a chemo cocktail searching for hope in the Scriptures again.
I found myself reading Psalm 91, and could not have been more infuriated. Verse 9 read, “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place – the Most High, who is my refuge – no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.” Livid, I wrote “divorce” and “cancer” in the margin of my Bible.
“What good are Your promises?!” I screamed in my head. I wanted to throw this book of lies through the hospital window. All of my short life I was devoted to my faith, on fire for Jesus. I was active in my youth group and reaching out in my school. I pursued missions through college, and never lost sight of my calling to go and tell the Good News to the nations. I wasn’t perfect, but I played things pretty much by the book, so getting hit with divorce and cancer in the same year felt like pure betrayal. Was any of it real? I felt like Job declaring that it profits a man nothing to delight in God.
“Keep reading,” whispered that still small voice.
Verse 10 reads, “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” That sounded familiar, so I flipped over to Matthew 4:6 where Satan used this exact passage to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. This very Psalm that I was being taunted with now. No one ever gave Satan points for originality.
I heard that still small voice ask, “Were my promises any different for my Son than they are for you?” I pictured Jesus reading the same Bible I held in my hands as He walked the earth. I imagined Him studying Deuteronomy and praying through the Psalms, and I wondered what He must have felt about these same promises when His disciples betrayed and abandoned Him. I wondered what “refuge” meant to Jesus when Pilot handed Him over to be crucified. Could He still see the promises of Psalm 2 through the pain of Psalm 22?
“Keep reading,” He said. Verse 12 reads, “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.” That sounded familiar, too, like the promise of ultimate victory given in Genesis 3:15. And I began to understand that my hope was not in the absence of suffering, but in the promise of the resurrection.
Jesus had all the same promises of deliverance that I do today, but He was not spared the cross. Instead, He was raised from the dead! Faith is not about trusting God to keep us from suffering, but to keep us in His love through suffering. God’s idea of refuge is being in a right relationship with Him. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10, “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” No matter what our circumstances are, His love will never fail. He will always see us through, but like Christ, that might mean through the grave because our real hope is in the resurrection that follows after.
(Published in the Pastor’s Corner of the Cottonwood Chronicle on February 11, 2016.)