"Because you have made the Almighty your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.
For God will command the angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone." - Psalm 91:9-12
Perhaps you have run into the tension between a literal and a non-literal reading of scripture. Some of us are certain that the Bible is true. Some of us know that it contains truths.
Psalm 91 is an example of the Bible's literary, not literal, power. Elsewhere the Bible portrays God as a presence so gloriously fearsome that no one can look on the face of the Almighty and live … yet here God is a refuge, a word we might use for a cozy shelter or peaceful retreat. God commands the angels to bear you up on their hands in Psalm 91 … even though angels are elsewhere described with wings and feet only (Isaiah 6), or as being spirits of fire (Psalm 104), having no hands to work with.
Literary, not literal. Sometimes the Bible's hardest and most important work is not to give us precise information but to free us up from set ways of thinking: about God, about God's creation, about humanity, about the relations among all those.
Literary, not literal. God assures safety for those who know the divine name — and the Bible reveals hundreds of names of God. Such a marvelous multiplicity, a plethora of promise of protection!
Creator, Protector, Redeemer, Mystery of Mysteries, Light of Light — teach me today to stretch my mind and loosen my certainties so that I may trust you more deeply, wonder about you more joyfully, follow you more lovingly. Help me practice some good, holy metaphors. Amen.
John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher of Church on the Hill, UCC, in Lenox, Massachusetts.