‘Andrà tutto bene’
Everything is going to be alright!
By Alexandra Anderson, March 2020
This is the slogan that Italians, who have been ordered by their government to stay at home because of the coronavirus, have been writing everywhere. I have been very moved and encouraged by watching video clips and images on the internet of Italians coming out onto their balconies to sing songs and play music to encourage one another while they are confined to their houses for 30 days. It is a far cry from earlier scenes all over Europe of people fighting over sanitizing hand gel and toilet paper in the supermarkets!
Psalm 91 begins with these reassuring words: ‘Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.’
Israeli scholar Yair Hoffman has called Psalm 91 the “amulet psalm.” The term came about from a practice in early Jewish and Christian communities of wearing amulets or lockets with verses from Psalm 91 inside them around the neck like a necklace. In this way the wearer would feel God’s presence close to him/her and be reminded of His providential care in difficult times.
Today we might think such a practice is mere superstition but it does show us the psalmist’s unshakable trust that the God who rescued his people from slavery in Egypt, is our refuge and our strength, the one in whom we can put our confidence. His divine protection means that “no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent (verse 10).”
We do not know what prompted the psalmist’s song but he opens with images related to military protection -- “refuge” and “fortress” (verse 2a), which would suggest that the psalmist is under attack and feels threatened. Verse 6, however, includes “pestilence that stalks in the darkness” and “destruction that wastes at noonday.” The impression given is that whatever danger the psalmist may encounter in this life, whether it be persecution, physical or mental threat, or even illness, the psalmist is confident that he will find safety and shelter under the wings of the Almighty God.
In these strange times of quarantine and self-isolation I wonder if we are able to trust God like that. Often our own life experience, with all our worries, doubts and troubles, does not seem to reflect the psalmist’s testimony. But if we can turn our attention away from the distress of the psalmist and from our own, to the astonishing fact that the Most High, the Almighty and everlasting God notices, lovingly responds to, and cares about our suffering and that the Creator of the universe commits himself unfailingly to his people, we too like the psalmist can say with confidence, “he is my refuge and my fortress.” The amazing truth that the psalmist communicates is that through the trials and challenges of life, we are not alone. God is on our side. The testimony of Psalm 91 is not that God’s people are immune to suffering, especially when that suffering comes as a result of sinfulness. Instead, it is that God will not ultimately let suffering or even death separate us from his love and care.
It is interesting that it is Psalm 91 that the devil quotes to Jesus when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. The evil one teases him and dares him to throw himself off the temple. Jesus rejects any idea that he can order God about and use him for his own convenience and responds with the words from Deuteronomy 6:16, “do not put the Lord your God to the test,”.
As we read this psalm during the season of Lent and in this strange ‘wilderness period’ of corona virus and forced isolation, it serves as a reminder that with God at our side, our trials and tribulations will not overcome us. More than that, as we look to Jesus and his journey to the cross, we are reminded how seriously God took his word to be with us in our suffering. Taking on our sin, our sorrows, and our suffering, Jesus bore them on the cross and laid the foundation for their ultimate defeat. In Christ, God truly has rescued us and shown us his salvation. Andra’ tutto bene! (Everything is going to be alright!)