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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
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St Paul's, Efford
Tony's Reflection 13
I have long admired cats. They have a remarkable ability to place themselves just out of reach of danger and then stare at it totally unfazed.
I am thinking here of my old pet cat. She used to love sitting on our garden wall, looking down with disdain at the dog next door jumping up at her and barking. She was completely calm and unflappable. She knew the dog couldn’t reach her.
Is my cat incredibly wise – knowing exactly how far danger can reach and placing herself just beyond it? Is she brave? Is she stupid?
The dividing line between wisdom, bravery and stupidity is sometimes a very thin one. Those who are fearless can sometimes be very brave, or they could just be too stupid to understand the reality around them.
The poet who wrote Psalm 91 is certainly fearless. More to the point, he is encouraging us to be the same. We will see his bravery, though, comes from the wisdom of understanding his situation.
Take a look at verses 5 and 6:
"You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday."
Not fearing the "terror of night" has taken on a whole new meaning, now so many of us are experiencing disturbing dreams during lockdown. Whether you are sleeping peacefully at the moment, or not, we all know what it is like to wake up suddenly, after a bad dream. It’s the split-second when you come around and that sense of fear and panic hits home, as you wonder whether your nightmare is real.
Alternatively, the “terror of night” could be that strange noise you hear outside. It wouldn't bother you in the daytime. But in the darkness of the small hours, there is that moment of the sharp intake of breath and fear strikes home.
For some, the night is a time of mulling over what might happen. You toss and turn as fearful thoughts run through your mind. Sleep disappears, as you just cannot switch off. The "terror of night" has hold of your thoughts.
At the root of all these “terrors of the night” is fear of the unknown. Our psalm promises us freedom from each and every one of these terrors.
The imagery then moves into the daytime.
Not only are we free from the fears that come with the night, but we are free from those of the day, as well.
"The arrow that flies by day” speaks of a very different hostility. An enemy is lying in wait for you. He is totally silent. He watches your every move. You see and hear nothing. Not until the arrow comes whistling at you … by then it is too late. The silent sniper has struck.
There may be times when there are people out to get us, waiting silently for their moment to strike.
All of us who trust in God, though, have a spiritual enemy. He is always there. He watches your every move. He is hidden, but has fiery arrows ready in his bow. They are aimed at you. He is just waiting for the right moment to shoot …
Should we be afraid of people waiting to shoot us down? Our spiritual enemy is powerful, cunning and hidden. Should we be afraid of him? "You will not fear the arrow that flies by day…"
Verse 5 could have been lifted from one of Boris' briefings about the invisible enemy. Coronavirus is a cold, calculating killer. It stalks you by night. You cannot see it coming. It destroys in the daylight, as victims struggle for breath and the immune system turns on the body.
We have survived isolation, but now we have to come out again and rebuild our lives. The virus is still out there …
Wisdom recognises that all of these threats are real. Will we fear them?
I began by telling you about my cat. She knew the threat of the dog next door was for real. She also knew where she would be out of the reach of danger. Sat on that wall, she was unafraid. She had a safe place.
You have a safe place, too. It is under the shelter of God's wing, as you draw close to him.
He gives you a shield, for you to take up and hold between you and whatever makes you afraid. Behind that shield is your safe place, as well.
You are safe because he is faithful. He will always watch over you. He has promised. You can rely on that. He never goes off duty.
Should you fear the terror of the night, or the enemy lying in wait, or the killer virus?
Not when you run close to your God. Not with your God on guard.