“Surely God will save you from the fowler’s snare. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day…” – Psalm 91:3-5
We were solving the world’s problems, aided by beer, and making good progress until we came to Syria, flood-ravaged Louisiana, an attack on a trans woman two towns over, and a neighbor whose drug-addicted husband is missing in Chicago.
Somebody sighed, “I don’t know how people who don’t believe in God get through these things.” Which was a little embarrassing because I’d been thinking more or less the opposite: “I don’t know how people who go through these things still believe in God.”
I learned this much as a pastor: suffering kills faith as often as it strengthens it. Some suffering people feel uplifted by God. Others succumb under the weight of God. For some, faith confirms. For others, it defrauds.
Sometimes Christians too casually offer God as strength, solace, and solution, as if saying ‘God’ settles things. But it doesn’t always. For some people, the ‘surely’ of the psalm is a false promise. ‘Surely’ mocks their pain. And you can’t say it’s because there’s a weakness in them, a fault in theology or trust or character. You can’t blame the victim.
To disbelieve the psalm’s ‘surely’ may seem faithless, but it could also be brave—even, strangely, an act of faith. But whatever it is, it’s at least, surely, a great mystery. A mystery to be respected, not argued into submission. A mystery to be plumbed, not judged deficient. A mystery that deserves the company of our patient, wondering love.
Stay near us in the mystery of pain and faith, O God. Keep us near each other, too, whether our prayer is ‘Surely’ or ‘Surely not.’
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.