14 Jul 2020

Whom Shall I Fear? Psalms, Fear of Viruses, and Prayer

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Contemporary Ethics, Discipleship, Faith, Hebrew Bible, Prayer, Psalms, Suffering, Worship

The Psalms Know

The Hebrew Bible, and the Psalms in particular, has a robust zest for life. Life, all life, human life, animal life, young life, old life – life – is the gift of the Creator God flowing out of God’s own Spirit (Ps 104.30, etc). Spiritual life is created life not some ethereal notion that lies only after we have died. The Hebrew Bible, especially the Psalms, also knows that alien forces bring chaos into God’s world.

These forces are real. The forces are frightening. The forces can be quite deadly. The First Testament, the Psalms, and the New Testament take these forces with utmost seriousness. This is why the Psalms has many prayers regarding sickness, weakness and even enemies.

Israel’s prayers, like our own, are the epitome of “Lord we believe, help our unbelief.” We cry in faith even as we live in fear.

The Bible does not “knock” our spiritual ancestors because they, like ourselves, live with one foot in God’s kingdom that we confess is real while simultaneously with one trembling foot in the vandalized world.

The Bible recognizes that a shaking cry to the universe can be the most profound act of faith (see Psalm 88). The call (prayer) is simultaneously a confession that Yahweh is King.

During anxious times like our present, our world is anxious over COVID-19, it is legitimate to cautious. It is also proper to lay our burden of fear before the Lord. Illness – even plague – is not an unknown theme in the Hebrew Bible. So the Psalms pray for protection of ourselves and our neighbors.

I call upon you, for you will answer me,
O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.

Guard me (us) as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings


The response of God to our prayers is a call to trust him and do not be afraid. Lamentations records a memory,

I called on your name, O LORD,
from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea,
‘Do not close your ear to my cry
but give me relief!’
You came near when I called on you;
you said,

Do not fear!
(Lam 3.55-57)

So the Psalms pray,

I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears
” (35.3)

Now I know that the LORD will help his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
” (20.6)

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil;
for you are with me
” (23.4)

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
” (Ps 27.1)

The Psalms recognize we do have fears. The Psalms know we do have pits we find fall in. The Psalms acknowledge that the world around us has “forces” like enemies, sickness and even death. The Psalms concede we are anxious, stressed and loose sleep. But the Psalms, by God’s amazing grace, Psalms gives us the very words to cast our fears upon the one we call Father. The Psalms call us to pray prayers of protection from those things.

The Psalms Call Us to Know

The Psalms also call us to know that our Lord is King and we have no reason to fear. This does not mean we do practice wisdom in heeding protocols during times of anxiety. We do heed them. Our love for our neighbors is proactive in protecting them.

But the Psalms call us to know that God will see us through. Trust in him.

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall never be shaken

Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs
to you, O Lord
(Psalm 62.1-2,11-12)

Today, I pray for God’s protection on the Chinese, Koreans, Italians, Spanish, Iranians, Russians, Brazilians, Indians, the elderly, the poor, Republicans, Democrats, the Trumps, the Bidens, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, the people right here in San Francisco Bay, and the family at Eastside.

Today, I pray that God will enable scientists to develop vaccines for this virus. Today, I thank the Lord for the women and men who are nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and caregivers

Today I pray that we give the Lord our fears and live confidently in him.

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life:
of whom shall I be afraid? …

Though an army encamp around me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the LORD,
that will seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in his temple

(Psalm 27.1, 3-4)

The Psalms know. The Psalms want us to know.

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