“Shelter in place” is one of the most recent additions to the lexicon of the English language.
I first became aware of the expression when the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, used it in an order addressed to Californians. His dramatic message was a “statewide mandatory STAY AT HOME order.”
Other governors in different states followed suit, and within days Americans were required to obey orders that affected where they could go, what they could do, if they could go to work, or their kids could go to school, and even if they could attend
The reason for these draconian instructions—a global pandemic of breathtaking proportion that was gaining ground inexorably around the globe.
When I was a kid growing up in WWII England, we became accustomed to the air raid sirens waking us in the middle of the night, the drone of enemy aircraft flying over head, the crash of bombs exploding, and the staccato din of anti-aircraft guns defending
us while we huddled in our cellars seeking “shelter in place!” We learned to cope, then to survive, then to thrive, and ultimately to enjoy the thrill of victory.
Governor Newsom’s order revived old memories—coping mechanisms clicked into gear, lessons learned were refreshed, and applications to the new crisis needed to be made.
But one thing superseded all others. We had learned to be locked in to faith in God and that meant we turned to Scripture and we learned to pray.
When I heard “shelter in place” my mind immediately went to:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1)
This statement introduces a theme—trust in God—but the second verse personalizes it—“the LORD…my God in whom I trust.” The Psalmist is more than ready to clearly articulate his faith stance.
As wartime kids we soon learned we were only as safe as our shelter was secure. This raises a question—if this Psalm is about trusting in God who provides shelter, who exactly is this God and how trustworthy is He?
The text tells us—He is “Most High” (Elyon, nothing higher than the Highest), “Almighty” (Shaddai, all powerful, sufficient), “Yahweh” (protective, promise
keeping God). The terms like dwelling in shelter, resting in shadow, entering fortress, hiding in refuge are poetic expressions designed to trigger our imagination and encourage us to enter into a personal trust in the pre-eminent, powerful, protective,
and personable Lord.
“In God we trust” has been the motto of the United Sates of America since 1956 and is not far removed from the Psalmist’s my God in whom I trust. But if we’re strictly honest we should admit that trusting in
God is not always easy.
I have heard repeatedly from the commentators and analysts on TV that we must “trust the science” and believe what “the experts are telling us” and follow government orders in order to “flatten the curve and beat the crisis.”
To the best of my recollection, I have not heard any of them tell me to trust God as per the national motto!
I think our national reflex reaction when trouble comes is to turn to science, government, conventional wisdom, confidence in leadership, personal effort, etc. for solutions. But if we wear out these options we may turn, as almost a last resort, to the
Lord. And we call that “in God we trust.”
Do I advocate then ignoring all the above and simply trusting that God will arrive like the cavalry in the nick of time and save us all from the scourge of coronavirus? Absolutely not—I thank God for competent government, brilliant academia, and
But here’s the issue—we don’t trust God at the end of the line after we have tried the alternatives. We turn to Him at the beginning of our issues seeking His intervention. We do it this way for two reasons. First, because it’s
His universe and He has a plan for it that stretches from eternity to eternity—and coronavirus fits in there somewhere! So He knows best what’s going on.
Secondly, He is all powerful and He alone can marshal the resources to counter what is needed for humanity to survive and thrive until He brings things to an end. (see 1 Peter 4:7; 11 and 2 Peter 3:10-13)
Then in that frame of reference we turn to science and government, etc. as gifts from God, we evaluate their input in terms of His superintendence, and we discover a deep-rooted sense of well being in the midst of uncertainty because we know, as the Psalmist
describes it poetically, “no disaster will come near your tent.”
That does not mean total immunity from harm and exemption for all viruses. It means nothing will get in the way of God’s eternal purposes being worked out in your life as you “rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”