A song of ascents.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
There are three things that we can learn from Psalm 121 in light of a fierce pandemic.
1. Let us call things by name. Let us not deviate from the problem.
2. Let us remember that God as a loving Father is the Creator of everything – including the obstacles on our way, so nobody like Him could overcome them like He does. He also sends a way in which we can overcome these obstacles.
3. Do not be afraid! This is the most common command in the Bible. Because God knows how forgetful we are and how easily we can get scared.
1. Let us call things by name. Let us not deviate from the problem.
Psalm 121 is a Psalm of Ascent. These songs of Ascent were sung by the Israelites going up the steep roads to Jerusalem, which was situated high in the Mountains of Judea. People would do this three times a year going to the Jerusalem Temple due to the yearly celebrations. They were to prepare the Israelites for a personal encounter with God in the Temple. This whole event was an expression of longing and desire to draw near to Yahweh. The journey through these mountains was always connected with some kind of danger.
As the Psalmist looks ahead of himself, he notices danger. He sees the danger of mountains and realizes that he is nowhere near a safe journey and now mere uncertainty lies ahead of him. What this Psalm teaches us is, to call danger by its name. We cannot pretend that the mountain is not in front of us or that the virus will not attack us. Some people go a step further and maintain that there is no virus and that Christians can never be infected.
The road ahead of the psalmist is long and uncertain. But he is not hiding the fact that he is scared and that he is in need of help. Maybe today we ask similar questions: how will I survive this uncertain season? How will I manage to make ends meet? How will I reach the top of this mountain which is ahead of me? I know that I have to keep a distance from people but what if that will make me feel lonely or isolated? The worst thing in all of this, is that we do not know how long this will last.
Psalm 121 says that a burden has to be called a burden and a problem must be called a problem. When the psalmist notices the problem, he reminds himself that same second where he can find solutions:
Verse 2: my help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Why does one mountain have to be a problem for me, if my help will come from the One, who made this mountain and made things bigger and mightier than this mountain?
In verses 3 and 4 we read how God always helps His people. He does not take naps, he does not forget about anything, he does not make mistakes. But he diligently observes and supervises over everything that is going on with us, our city, our country and our congregation. He has control over these days and weeks of the quarantine which are ahead of us. Remember this when you can’t sleep or when you wake up scared in the middle of the night. Remember that God is our Guardian (verse 5).
There is no sphere of your life which is not under God’s control and protection. But what if you are scared about your own financial safety? What if you are worried about your family, about your relationships with friends. What if you are experiencing loneliness or that you will not be able to keep a weekly routine? What if your planned trips have been cancelled as well as contracts with potential contractors? Maybe you do not feel that God is vigilant over everything and that everything is under control...?
If that is true then what you need is to live by faith resting in God’s Word.
2. God is the Creator of EVERYTHING.
There are so many situations represented in the Bible which remind us that because God is a sovereign God, He can place any kinds of changes in our life He wants. Often these are indeed unpleasant things, sometimes even they can seem cruel. But if God cannot do with this world whatever He wants, then He is not God. And if God is God, and is the Author of this world if He would be intelligent enough to create it, then He probably knows what He is doing whilst making these changes.
Over the last 100-150 years a number of cults have sprung up which have brought down the Person of God to a good genie who gives only good things to everyone and positive feelings. They preach that: “God is only good. God is love. “In this way the Church has tried to “sell” the idea of God to the society that didn’t care about God and faith. Due to these actions, the Church itself has believed that God is good only and that God is solely love and love has become a god. This is why now even Christians often state that: “This virus cannot come from God! After all God is good and a good God can not send a virus to His people”.
This is the first sign of a lack of Biblical knowledge. These people read their Bible through the lens of their own doctrines and imagination.
2 Chronicles 7:13-14
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Yes! God can send a disease on His people. He is a God who has a right to anything. Here is a lesson from the Heidelberg Catechism that tells us amore about how God works.
Question 27. What do you mean by the providence of God?
Answer: The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but be his fatherly hand.
Let us remember that God is the creator of heaven and earth. Let us not deceive ourselves. God is not only the administrator of positive things.
At school I had a lot of problems with mathematics, I could not do it and did not understand it. I often stood by the blackboard like a fool and did not know how to solve this or that problem. But the fact that I did not know the answer did not at all mean that the answer was nonexistent. It is similar with suffering. If I cannot figure out the cause of suffering in my own head then that still does not mean that those causes do not exist.
Orthodox Christians for many centuries have repeated the Nicene Cred stating that: “We believe in one God, Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, everything seen and unseen…”. Every virus which is unseen by us is also created by God for purposes which God thinks are needed at this present time.
Today’s Psalm excellently reminds us that God safeguards His creation. Even when we have to experience some suffering.
And today’s catechism lesson reminds us about His providence and that if God sends a disease and pestilence we still receive it as from His FATHERLY hand. Because the Father knows best about what His children need. If an earthly father can make mistakes, God the Father does not make any mistakes! Let the next Heidelberg Catechism question be a consolation to us. We know now what God’s providence is but what do we do about this knowledge now?
Question 28. What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by his providence does still uphold all things?
Answer: That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.
3. Do not be afraid
Another psalm, which is loved by every Christian, psalm 23, similarly gives us encouragement in these difficult times – reminding us that even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, I will fear no evil.
These difficult times do not look great from our perspective. But in a little while we will look back and we will understand God’s hand in a much clearer way. Do you remember the time Abraham was called to sacrifice his son Issac? It looked like a very cruel thing at the time which wasn’t fair. But at the end we see that God was not acting spontaneously but according to a great plan and a script.
Do you remember the story of Joseph whose brothers sold him into Egypt? It did not make sense back then. But with hindsight when a starvation commenced and Egypt was well equipped with food, suddenly the selling of Joseph into Egypt makes sense.
The killing of the Messiah on the cross on that grim day would have seemed to make no sense at all. But with hindsight it makes a lot of sense.
Even at times when God does not seem to be present, let us remember that Jesus himself experienced a burning pain due to the absence of the Father when he cried out: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
Yes, God is a king but a King who did not come to earth to step up to a throne but to a cross. Yes, God is full of glory but there is no greater glory than this when He put His glory and power aside in order to become weak and mortal.
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by making the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Amen