About a year ago my family and I were driving through the mountains of Arizona past areas that had recently been affected by wildfires. The black residue covered the hills as far as the eyes could see. Yet a few small brown patches remained mysteriously unhindered. Those areas reminded me of verses from Psalm 91. “A thousand may fall by your side. Ten thousand at your right hand. But it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.”
The chapter starts out by saying “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘You are my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.’ Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings, you’ll find refuge. His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalk in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall by your side. Ten thousand at your right hand. But it will not come near you….”
So much is going on in our world…diseases, violence, civil unrest, yet it does not have to affect us. Like the patches of unhindered grass among the ashes, when we put our hope in God, He promises to watch over us and keep us safe from the flames of this world. We too can remain mysteriously untouched. But Psalm 91 reveals this mystery. “If you make the Most High your dwelling, even the Lord, who is my refuge, then no harm shall befall you. No disaster will come near your tent. For He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. And they will lift you up in their hands so you won’t strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra. You will trample the great lion and the serpent. ‘Because He loves Me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him. I will protect him for he acknowledges My name. They will call upon Me and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver and honor him. With long life, I will satisfy him and show him My salvation.”
But what about those who did hope in the Lord and their lives were still cut short? I don’t claim to have the perfect answer, but I do know that we are told to rest in God for our protection and so many times – even during Covid – I have seen the hand of God protecting my family. The Lord also took one of us home. My dad passed away a few weeks ago. He was one who had put his trust in God and yet still died at the young age of 68. When wrestling through this and asking God why?, the Lord led me to I Thessalonians 4 13-17. “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this, we declare to you by word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, so we will always be with the Lord.”
So even those who die, who are in Christ, or who believed in Him, will see the salvation of the Lord – even before those who are still alive when Christ returns. So His promise is both/and. When we make God our dwelling place – our safety – He protects us. At times it’s here on earth. On other occasions, it’s by bringing us safely home to heaven. And those He brings to heaven before His return will have a front-row seat of seeing the salvation of God – Jesus returning in the clouds with the sound of a trumpet ushing His bride – believers – into eternity.
This hope is what keeps us unaffected by the flames around us. We don’t have to be touched by fires of fear, anxiety, worry, or despair because for us, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. – Phil. 1:21
A year later my family and I drove past the same area that had been affected by wildfires. The brown patches that had been preserved from the flames were still brown. But all around, there was a certain beauty that arose out of the ashes – a majestic, rich, iridescent green. For miles and miles, lush grass covered the hills that had once been blackened by nature. Life was being forged in the flames.
It is a beautiful and supernatural act when the Lord chooses to protect His people from the surrounding flames or troubles of this world. But when God permits those he loves to suffer and die, I can’t help but wonder what kind of majestic, rich, and iridescent glory we will see when they rise up from the grave.
And even now, lush green life is peeking through their ashes…