This will ordinarily sound like a contradiction. But it is simply an indication that in times of fear, worry and anxiety, there is something else to do, it is simply not to fear. A reflection on Psalm 56 offers a genuine alternative to fear in times like this. During this Covid-19 pandemic churches have been shut to public worship for six weeks now in our own part of the world, in Ondo State. What is perhaps disturbing for many is that we simply do not know for how long this is going to continue, and more disturbing is the fact that cases of infection appear to be on the increase instead of decreasing. Even the powerful nations of the world are helpless
How things are really going to play out in the near future remains unclear. Naturally, someone could become afraid; afraid about safety, about family and friends, about sustenance or daily routines, about means of livelihood, health, and many other things. But shall we be afraid because of these?
The Psalmist offers a valid way, especially in Psalms 56.3 he declares “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you”
The Bible as God’s word to God’s people consists of many genres, telling the story of God-man relationship in diverse ways. The psalms instead of speaking to us speaks for us and on our behalf, directly out of genuine human experience. This explains why it is often the book mostly turned to when people find themselves in difficulties and tribulations of life. When we have nothing to say and know not how to express ourselves the psalms give us the word for such occasions.
Today what we derive from the Psalmist in chapter 56:3 is basically that when I am afraid…I shall not be afraid essentially because I put my trust in God.
Firstly, the Psalmist who is realistically undergoing predicaments and enduring attacks, which he acknowledges is also under the cover of the Almighty. In verses 1and 2, he cries “Be gracious to me O God, for people trample on me; all day long foes oppress me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many fight against me.” He is very realistic about his experience. Life is tough, he acknowledges. Verses 9-11, however, show something remarkably refreshing, “Then my enemies will retreat in the day I call…in the LORD whose word I praise…” Thus David the Psalmist who is the object of man’s hostility in the opening of the psalm is also the object of God’s care in verses 9-11.
Surely this must give us hope. Even if we seem like objects of possible attack from Covid-19 we are surely also the objects of God’s unfailing care.
Secondly, instead of fear the Psalmist offers what should be our action. In verses 3-4 he says “when I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid; what can man do to me?.” Surely there is movement here from overwhelming fear to exceeding confidence that can confront any hostility. What can man do to me?, he asks. This is at a time when he should be afraid. He is demonstrating confidence rooted in absolute trust in God. Trust is not a feeling that all will be well but a conviction arising from what God has said- confidence in his promises.
Trust that counters fears(3-4) is a trust that issues in prayer(7-8). Prayer is the first way genuine trust expresses itself and in turn leads to a more fully formed trust. This resonates with the psalmist elsewhere in Psalm 34:4, “I sought the Lord , and he answered me, and delivered Me from all my fears.” David experienced this and God’s children are blessed with similar testimonies.
Instead of fear “I put my trust in you(God)” There is no need to pray if you cannot trust the God who listens to the prayers of His people. “Then my enemies will retreat in the day when I call. This I know that God is for me”(v.9). So I shall not be afraid when I am afraid; I know that God is for me. In times like this we shall not be afraid but put our trust in God. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall but we rise and stand upright.”(Ps. 20:7-8).
Thirdly, the present predicaments will lead us to a time of testimonies and thanksgiving. God will always fulfil his part of the bargain to keep and deliver his people , those who put their trust in him. In times of trouble we rush to make vows before God. But we must remember to fulfil them with thanksgiving to God. God will bring his people to a glorious end but we must continue to exercise our hope by trusting him. In this psalm 56, 5-6, David, oppressed by man, becomes David under vow to God (12-13). See how God moves the psalmist from a position of fear to that of hope, joy and confidence. Little wonder St Paul states that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be made known to us (Rom. 8:18).
Fourthly, there is a purpose for deliverance or shall we say there will be victory after the present turbulence of Covid-19. It would be for us a time to fulfil our vows and thank God not only with our substance but much more with our time, and talents. Indeed it shall be a time to serve Him with our totality.
In conclusion, the Psalmist reminds us of the most important thing today in a time like this when we are most naturally inclined to be afraid; do not be afraid. Rather put your trust in him (Psalm 56:3). And the Lord Jesus who is worthy to be trusted has said whoever comes to me I shall in no wise cast away. “It shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom.10:13). How good to know that God is faithful and reliable, and all I have to do now in the midst of the crisis is to put my trust in him, who never fails in watching over his people. When I am afraid I shall not be afraid.
The Rt Rev Dr Stephen Ayodeji Fagbemi