Why do we turn to God in times of trouble, when God doesn't seem capable of making the trouble go away? We pray for peace, but wake up to another shooting. We pray for safety, but harm comes anyway. We pray to love, but find ourselves thinking hateful thoughts. The joys of life seem to always walk alongside the tragedies of life. I think the Psalmist must have had similar experiences that led to the writing of Psalm 91, for this song speaks of God’s enduring love and protection, even in the most frightening and troubling of times. God can’t make the bad things go away, as we are all too vividly reminded every time we have another mass shooting. God’s protective love doesn’t make our lives perfect, nor does it prevent us from being hurt. But it does cover us with God’s constant presence, in good times and bad. The shooting victims this weekend were not alone when the bullets started flying. God was in the midst of all that violence, weeping to see more of his beloved children harmed and harming. “I will be with them in trouble,” God promises. Not that trouble won’t come, just that we have a God who walks with us in those troubling times.
This Psalm doesn’t promise an easy protection. Quite frankly, it’s pretty honest that troubles will come: There will be traps and snares. There will be deadly disease and violent tragedies. There will be terrors in the night, and plagues that destroy. There will be wars, and good men and women will fall in battle. People lose homes and jobs and friends and loved ones every day. Tragedy is real. Evil is a reality, and bad things happen to good people every day. I don’t want to pretend that simply loving God makes everything okay, or even makes it any easier. Sometimes it doesn’t.
The week after the 9/11 attacks, I heard a preacher claim that God would protect us as long as we walked in God’s ways, and that the people in the twin towers had walked outside of the umbrella of God’s protection. He basically was accusing every victim of those tragic attacks of being a sinner in the hands of an angry God. I don’t worship that God. I don’t think that God exists, and the Psalmist didn’t either.
Jesus died on a cross, the most horrific execution method the Roman empire had at its disposal. It was a cruel, ugly, horrific death, and God would not have wanted that horrible of a death for anyone, most of all his precious son Jesus. But bad things happen to good people, even to the best people. And sometimes in the midst of those horrors, it’s hard to remember that God is there. Even Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”
But even as he cried out, he cried out with the words of a Psalm. At those moments when we feel most forsaken, turn to a Psalm like Psalm 91 or sing a musical version of it like "On Eagle's Wings" as reminder that God has not forsaken you. You are not alone, just as Jesus was not alone on that cross. You can call on God, and God will hear, even answer, perhaps in unexpected ways like a stranger on a roadside, or a first responder who tries to save your life, or a song that wells up to give you hope. God is with us in our troubles, in our questions, and in our fears, guiding and protecting us as best God can. We are not alone. In our times of trouble, tragedy, fear, and regret, God is with us, like a mother eagle in the nest. That may be the only rescue we get, but perhaps it is rescue enough.