In one of the Rolling Stones’ most recognizable songs, Mick Jagger sings the following words:
“Ooh, a storm is threatening
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Ooh yeah I’m gonna fade away”
In the background, a female vocalist (who, if you didn’t know, improvised some of the words during recording) wails:
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away”
These words may be a reference to the 1914 assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, along with his wife Sophie. Many historians cite this event as the first domino to fall that eventually led to World War 1. Apparently, war really is “just a shot away”.
Over the past two weeks or so, we’ve learned firsthand just how quickly life can change. As I wrote in last week’s devotion, the sudden and widespread impact of COVID-19 has left many of us feeling disoriented. It feels like the pillars of the earth have been tottering – and we’re still not entirely sure what the world will look like when this period of instability ends. So much of what we know – our habits, priorities, finances, and plans – have been temporarily disrupted or permanently altered. Adapting Mick Jagger’s lyrics to our current situation: chaos, children, it’s just a virus away.
It’s not only in a Rolling Stones song that we’ve heard the word “shelter” as of late. We’ve seen the news about cities, counties, and states implementing “shelter in place” orders to help slow the spread of the virus. Citizens everywhere are being ordered to find a safe place, and stay there – lest the viral storm threatening our very lives today cause even more horrifying numbers of people to “fade away”.
Of course, there’s wisdom and prudence in the “shelter in place” orders being issued. All the experts tell us that practicing “social distancing” could save untold numbers of lives, and Christians – people who should be known for loving our neighbors – ought to take it seriously. Sadly, not everyone has done this; hence the need for official, legal “shelter in place” orders.
But the truth is that even the strictest enforcement of “shelter in place” orders can only take us so far. Sheltering in place may help limit heartbreaking and preventable amounts of suffering and death in the battle against COVID-19. However, we also know – whether you “shelter in place” or not, and whether you catch this new coronavirus or not – the death rate for humans is still 100%.
In facing the universal problem of death, we need much more than plastic gloves, face masks, and at least six feet between us and the nearest stranger. When staring down the problem of death, we need a different – better – kind of shelter.
In Psalm 46, we read:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Psalm 46 was the inspiration for Martin Luther’s famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” In the first line, Luther refers to God as “a bulwark never failing”.
Likewise, in Psalm 91 we read:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Later in Psalm 91, we read numerous examples of God’s deliverance: deliverance from traps, plagues, terror, arrows, destruction, enemies, evil, and even death. Interestingly, Psalm 91 is one of the Old Testament passages Satan twisted in his failed effort to tempt Jesus in the desert.
Of course, the psalmists – both of Psalm 46, and Psalm 91 – knew as they wrote that one day, they would die. They did not compose these words under the impression that nothing bad would ever happen to them. But they did know that no matter what storm threatened their very lives, they could trust in God – their refuge, strength, fortress, and shelter. Evidently many other Biblical writers knew this as well; the Hebrew word for “refuge” is used to describe God some 94 times throughout the Old Testament alone.
As we find ourselves in the midst of the universal hardship that is the threat of COVID-19 – as we batten down the hatches of our homes, pull up the drawbridges that may let the dreaded virus in, and “shelter in place” for who knows how long – may we remember that God himself is our eternal shelter. He is our refuge, strength, and fortress.
While there’s no guarantee that COVID-19 won’t harm, or even kill us or someone we love, believers in Jesus can have the utmost confidence that in the eternal scheme of things, illness – and even death – have lost their power over us. The cost of sin – the root source of illness and death in our world – has been covered for all believers by the broken body and shed blood of Christ on the cross. And because death did not have the final say over Jesus, it will not have the final say over us.
That’s why we can say, along with the psalmists, that God is our shelter – even when our very lives are threatened. May we trust Him during this storm, and every other storm that may come our way. Whether this virus has us losing sleep over a lost job, nervously calculating how to make ends meet with reduced hours, or worried sick that a particularly vulnerable friend or family member might get sick – may the Psalms remind us that God is our shelter.
And because of this, we know that even if our darkest fears become reality – and even when our time comes to “fade away” – we will have a shelter to rest in that is safe and warm. Our place there has been secured by Christ, and our confidence is just as sure as the tomb is empty.