Since the beginning of lockdown, we’ve seen a wide variety of Christian responses to Covid-19. One which I’ve heard quite a lot is people saying that they aren’t worried about the virus because they are ”claiming Psalm 91 over their lives.” The idea behind this is that through praying the words of Psalm 91 over yourself daily, you will be protected from the virus.
I’ve always felt a bit uneasy whenever someone talks about claiming the promises of Scripture for themselves. While I don’t deny that the Bible contains promises for us (an obvious one being Romans 10:9 – “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”) I’m not convinced that picking out verses of Scripture and claiming them as promises for us now is always a good use of the Bible.
Psalm 91 appears to make some big promises for believers.
“For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease.” (Psalm 91:3)
“Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you.” (Psalm 91:6-7)
“If you make the LORD your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.” (Psalm 91:9-10)
Amazing, right? We have no need to fear disease!
Why then have so many Christians contracted Covid-19? Why have some of them died? I can think of two possible answers to these questions:
- Those Christians who have contracted the virus had not made the LORD their refuge;
- This Psalm isn’t actually promising Christians immunity from disease.
I can’t speak for the faith of all the Christians who have had the virus, but those who I know have had it could not be accused of not having trusted in God. Within our Elim movement, we have seen four pastors (that I’m aware of) suffer severely from Covid-19 and sadly one of them has died. These are faithful people who served God and trusted Him. We’ve been blessed in our local church not to have had any severe cases of Covid-19, but we have had cases. Those who have contracted the virus are faithful people who trust God, and yet the plague has come near their home!
It cannot be as simple as “claiming” Psalm 91 over your life and then being protected from Covid-19. It cannot be true that God will protect Christians from disease because we see all around us evidence of Christians who suffer from diseases and illnesses of all kinds.
There is some debate about the true meaning of Psalm 91. Some scholars interpret the passages above as relating to plagues sent by God to judge a nation, like in the book of Exodus when the Israelites were protected from the plagues God sent against Egypt. Even then though, God didn’t protect the Israelites from all of the plagues – it wasn’t until the plague of flies, the fourth plague, that God shielded the Israelites in order to show Pharaoh that the Lord is God.
It’s also possible that the ‘disease’ and ‘disaster’ of verse 6 is referring to demonic activity. The Hebrew noun translated as ‘disaster’ (qêtêb) is presented in Rabbinical commentaries as a scaly one-eyed demon that stalks during the daytime. The ‘terrors of the night’ in verse 5 are ambiguous but interpreted by some as relating to unseen evil associated with darkness.
We should also remember that verses 11-12 are quoted by Satan in his temptation of Jesus. Satan urges Jesus to jump off the summit of the temple because God will “order his angels to protect you… they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.” Jesus responds with the emphatic, “You must not test the Lord your God” (Matthew 4:6). I’m not suggesting that those who quote these verses to imply protection from Covid are playing the role of Satan, but we should certainly be cautious not to misuse Scripture even by accident in the way that he does deliberately.
We need to be careful that we don’t oversimplify our theology. In the same way that it is dangerous to claim that God always heals when we know that He doesn’t, we risk misleading people if we say that passages like Psalm 91 can be claimed as protection against diseases like Covid-19.
I believe that God heals today. I’ve seen it happen. I believe that God sets people free today. I’ve experienced it for myself. But I’m also acquainted with grief. I’ve seen good, godly people die from diseases even after many people have prayed earnestly for their healing. Even now as I write this there are people in our local church family who are battling cancer, struggling with mental health conditions, and recovering from Covid-19. Their faith in God is real. Their trust in God is earnest.
It would be amazing if simply claiming Psalm 91 as a promise over your life gave you protection from all diseases, but I don’t believe that is the psalmist’s intent. Neither is it a good use of the Bible. At worst, it sets people up to question the validity of their faith when they face disease; at best it gives false hope.
As Christians, we are the people of real hope. We have no need for false hope because we have a hope that is sure and certain even in the face of suffering. We have a God who is good and powerful and gracious and gentle and loving and kind. Sometimes He heals us of our diseases; sometimes He protects us from getting them in the first place; sometimes He simply walks with us through the pain. Ultimately, we believe that Jesus is coming back one day to restore all creation to the way it was always meant to be; free from pain, sickness and sorrow.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4).