Death, disease, starvation, homelessness, and many, many more problems plague humanity. At times, we all find ourselves facing or fearing these problems either in our own lives or in the lives of others. The following psalm addresses our fear of these things, acknowledging that God will protect those who take refuge in Him. Before reading the psalm, I’d like you to reflect on what that protection may look like in your own life.
Now, that first line can be a little misleading. The Hebrew word cether, translated here as shelter, is more indicative of a secret, protective place. Actually, it may be best to think best to think of it as a bomb shelter, someplace fortified with the intent of protecting those who may take refuge there. But what does this mean? Does it mean that we are invulnerable, like superheroes running around defeating evil left and right? Perhaps, but we all know someone who is/was a devout Christian and became I’ll, or even passed away in some tragic accident. So let’s take a look a little further into this chapter for more context. In fact, let’s skip all the way to the last line of this psalm.
Rest assured my friends, God will take care of you. But it might not be in the way that you think. You may still get sick, you may even die young, but it will be for the glory of God’s plan and for the greater benefit of those around you. You may not see it now, and they may not see it either, but at some point it will all make sense.
Personally, I have been through many trials and tribulations in my life. I’ve witnessed murder, been abused, raped, I’ve even been to war, in fact, I had reached a point where I had given up. I was just waiting to die, even inviting death on a few occasions, but it did not come. I couldn’t see any purpose for what I had been through and I couldn’t even fathom a light at the end of the tunnel. But it was there.
Trouble and affliction will enter into all of our lives, but it is for our own good. It is only through our suffering that we can experience true joy, wisdom, and humility. All of my experiences truly worked out for my benefit, and even though I still lose sight of that from time to time, God does not. So have patience, have humility, and most of all, be grateful for your life. It may not be the life you want, but it’s the only life you have.
And now, let’s discuss death. What is death to the Christian? The beginning of new life. It is not something to feared, it is something to be celebrated. Earlier I mentioned that our suffering and death can be for the benefit of others, even if the world does not realize it. So, let me give you a quick example of this.
Alexander “Sacha” Schapiro was born into a Jewish family around 1889. At 14 years old, he joined a Russian anarchist movement attempting to inspire political change. They were all arrested and executed, with the exception of Sacha, who was allowed to live due to his age. For several weeks he waited while his friends and allies were executed day after day, thinking that he would be next. He found himself sentenced to life in prison at a mere 16 years old. During one of his many escape attempts, he was shot in his left arm, which then had to be amputated. He was placed in solitary confinement for a whole year. During his time in prison, he even attempted suicide.
Unexpectedly, in 1917 he was released and lauded as a revolutionary hero. After fighting with against the Bolsheviks for several years, he escaped to Paris. Here, he founded and wrote for the International Works of Anarchists Edition, earned money as a street photographer, met his wife and had a son, Alexander. He and his wife moved to Spain in 1936 and fought with the anarchists there, leading up to the Spanish revolution. When they returned to France, Sacha was sent to a concentration camp and was deported to Auschwitz in 1942, where he was murdered.
Now, the life of Sacha was full of trials, people don’t start revolutions for the fun of it. The Bolshevik revolution, the Spanish revolution, and WW2 were all important parts of world history, and Sacha was involved in all of them. Constantly attempting to make the world a better place, and only seeing it become darker and darker. This must have been horrible to live through, and his death might have been welcomed in a sense.
Although Sacha may not have been able to see it, his contributions to history were important. But even more important we’re the lives he touched. Most especially his son, Alexander, who would go on to become known as the “Einstein of mathematics” and greatly contribute to society through his passion and intellect. He would receive the Fields Medal, the highest award in mathematics, solve 14 different Ph.D-worthy questions in his thesis paper, and write the Tohoku paper which revolutionized algebra. He gave seminars at Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques in Paris, where mathematicians from all over the world would come to see him. He went on to prove Simone Weir’s conjectures, revolutionizing geometry as well.
Alexander was also a principled man, caring for peace, the environment, and government overreach. He left his job in France because the institute had been taking money from the ministry of defense. He devoted himself to a new project, Survivre et Vivre, which had the primary goal of saving the planet and the human species.
All of this happened because Alexander revered his father, he new of his suffering, his heroism, and his fortitude. The impact Sacha had on his son, through his actions in his own life, gave rise to a great number of monumental discoveries benefitting mankind.
When great tragedy enters our lives, we honor it by rising to the occasion, by inspiring others, by keeping faith in God. Likewise, through our struggle, God protects and honors us. And this, my friends, is truly a beautiful thing.