Restoration Quarterly 43.4 (2001) 280-292.

       Copyright © 2001 by Restoration Quarterly, cited with permission.





               IN THE MEANING OF PSALM 91



                                            LEONARD C. KNIGHT

                                          Kentucky Christian College


            I was sitting in chapel at Michigan Christian College (now Rochester

College) one day about ten years ago when Steve Eckstein was the scheduled

speaker. On this day, Steve reminisced about some of the formative experiences

in his life. Among them, he talked about what it meant to be an infantry soldier

during the Second World War as the allied armies ground their way through

France and Germany toward Berlin. What particularly caught my attention about

his lesson was his reference to Psalm 91. He said he had an aunt who wrote to

him regularly while he was in Europe. In every letter she quoted Ps 91:7, "A

thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not

come near you."1 Steve seemed to marvel at her faith, and, clearly, he had been

deeply comforted by her application of this passage to his battlefield experience.

            My reading of Psalm 91 reflects the struggles that I, as a counselor, and my

clients encounter in an attempt to claim the promises of these verses. My goal

is to help those with whom I am working find the confidence to trust God in the

midst of their suffering. Weiser points out that Psalm 91 "is the wholly personal

and intimate relationship of trust in God portrayed within the narrow scope of the

personal circumstances of an individual."2 One of the metaphors suggested in the

language of verses 11 and 12 is that of a journey (Gen 24:7, 40; Exod 23:20; cf.

Prov 3:23, where the parallel is "you will go on your way in safety"). Cohen

notes that the Talmud interprets these verses as teaching that "two ministering

angels accompany a man through life to testify about his conduct before the

heavenly tribunal after death."3 The Christian counselor often has the sense of

accompanying another on a long journey toward spiritual and emotional healing.

This image influences how I understand Psalm 91 in the midst of human


            1 References to the Scriptures are taken from the New International Version.

            2 A. Weiser. The Psalms (trans. Herbert Hartwell; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962),


            3 A. Cohen. The Psalms (New York: Soncino Press, 1977). 303.


            KNIGHT/I WILL SHOW HIM MY SALVATION              281


difficulty. To begin, I will provide the reader with a brief overview of the

meaning of the text, and then I will attempt to place these verses in the context

of real life experience.

            The psalmist's theme is the intimate enjoyment of the presence of God. The

psalm begins: "He who 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’" (Ps 91:1-2). The comfortable use of the

divine names emphasizes the protection and intimacy the supplicant feels in the

presence of God. God is "the Most High," the God who is above every other

deity (Gen 14:17-24). He is El Shaddai, the almighty God who is totally self-

sufficient. He needs no other assistance in rescuing, sustaining, and establishing

his people (Exod 6:1-8). He is also Yahweh, the Lord of the covenant (Gen 12).

The giving of the covenant is couched in the rich interpersonal experience of

wedding language (Exod 19:1-17). In Hosea, the covenant relationship is gov-

erned by hesed, or covenant love. The essence of covenant love is loyalty and

mutual service. The psalmist (91:4) echoes this idea: "his faithfulness will be

your shield and rampart." Finally, he is Elohim, God. But he is "my God." Under

the "shadow of the Almighty" and in the "refuge and fortress of my God," the

speaker discovers security and significance that he cannot know away from the

presence of God.4

            One of the linguistic problems in Psalm 91 is the unusual use of the

pronouns. Translators and commentators have been tempted to understand the

second person singular, "you," as what they term "an ideal second person." Thus

it becomes not "you" but "one," or an impersonal, literary description of

"someone." But the power of this psalm is in the intimacy of the relationship that

allows the traveler to seek "rest in the shadow of the Almighty" and to consider

the Lord his personal "refuge" and "fortress." As with the permission to address

God by his personal names, so the dialogue is carried along by the use of the

intimate interpersonal pronouns "you" and "your," which strengthen the sense

of belonging.5

            This psalm promises that the one who trusts in the Lord shall be protected

from four threats and will triumph over four dangerous beasts. The threats


            4 Weiser. The Psalms. 607.612; Anthony Ash and Clyde Miller, "Psalm 91," in The

Living Word Commentary (ed. John T. Willis; Austin, Tex.: Sweet Publishing, 1980).

318: Franz Delitzsch. The Psalms (trans. Francis Bolton; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 1968).

63; Eric F. Evenhuis. "Marital Reconciliation under the Analogy of Christ and His

Church" (D.Min. thesis, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1974). 18; Walther Eichrodt,

Theology of the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster. 1960). 232-33; and N.

Glueck. Hesed in the Bible (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press. 1967), 57.

            5 Ronald W. Goetsch, "The Lord Is My Refuge," Concordia Journal (July.1983):

140: Ash and Miller, "Psalm 91," 319; H. L. Leupold. The Exposition of the Psalms

(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977).. 654; Franz Delitzsch, The Psalms, 62.


282                             RESTORATION QUARTERLY


suggested by "snares of the fowler" and the "deadly pestilence" (Ps 91:3) are

further developed in verses 5 and 6. These images suggest attacks on the very

existence of the one who is entrapped by the "fowler." The "deadly pestilence"

is literally translated "from death of destructions" and carries the idea of a

violent death (see also Ps 78:50 for the use of deber).6 The focus is not so much

on the weakness of the wayfarer as it is on those who are hostile to his success.

Chief among the fowlers is Satan, whose goal is to destroy not only the wicked

but also the righteous (Job 1 and 2).7  Safety and protection from these dangers are

found within the cover of the Lord's wings (Ps 91:4).8 This is the image of the

eagle, who provides protection for her young and supports them as they develop

their own abilities to scale heaven's heights (Deut 32:11).

            God's faithful promise provides a bulwark against "the terror of the night"

as well as the "arrow that flies by day"(Ps 91:4-6). The terms for "shield" and

rampart" refer to armor that would cover the entire body. The images of battle

suggest all assaults by the enemy, both unprovoked attacks and direct confron-

tations. "You will not fear" (Ps 91:5) expresses the confidence of those who face

life's natural dangers as well as threats that arise from conflict with others. The

trust in the Lord overcomes fear even in relationship to all kinds of epidemics.

The psalmist addresses the common beliefs that certain dangers were more

prevalent in the daytime and others were to be feared at night. The presence of

the Lord makes possible peace and rest for those who fear both the dangers of

the day and the terrors of the night.9

        Dangers of the journey are both hidden and obvious (Ps 91:13). The Hebrew

for lion (shachal, 13) can be figurative for enemies of all kinds. Thus all violent

and abusive threats may be included. Some are hidden, and others are openly

threatening to the traveler. Both the cobra and the serpent represent the ven-

omous dangers on which one may accidentally tread. As vipers, these creatures

do not shrink from the one passing by but aggressively attack.10

            In the midst of the dangers that the psalmist has enumerated, the believer is

assured of protection. Though thousands and even ten thousands are falling to

the right and to the left, the judgement of the Lord will become apparent to the

one whose eyes are fixed on him (Ps 91:7-8). Commentators suggest that the


            6 Cohen. The Psalms, 301.

            7 Goetsch. "The Lord Is My Refuge." 142: Ash and Miller. "Psalm 91," 318:

Delitzsch. The Psalms, 63: Joseph Exell, "The Psalms," in The Biblical Illustrator (Grand

Rapids: Baker. 1956). 84-85: H. L. Leupold. The Exposition of the Psalms. 652: L. H.

Spurgeon. The Treasury of David (Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson. n.d. ). 2:90.

            8 Ash and Miller. "Psalm 91." 318.

            9 Cohen. The Psalms. 302. 12: Weiser. The Psalms. 608-9: A. F. Kirkpatrick. Psalms

(Cambridge: University Press. 1906). 556.

            10 Goetsch. "The Lord Is My Refuge." 144: Eugene H. Peterson, Psalms (Colorado

Springs. Colo.: NayPress. 1994). 130: Franz Delitzsch. The Psalms. 64-65.


            KNIGHT/I WILL SHOW HIM MY SALVATION              283


poet has in mind the devastating retribution that was poured out upon the first-

born of Egypt when the death angel passed and upon the armies of Pharaoh when

the Red Sea closed upon them in their pursuit of the children of Israel. The

Israelites were just beginning the great exodus, and though they would often

falter during their journey, God ultimately redeems them.11

            Two metaphors of hope are suggested in the imagery of Psalm 91. The first

is the impregnable fortress of the great army's commander situated high above

the enemy and surrounded by rank upon rank of encamped legions of angels.

The security of the fortress is offered to the weak and fearful as a city of refuge

(Ps 91:1, 9-10). Angels are commanded to "guard you in all your ways, [and]

they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against

a stone" (Ps 91:11-12; cf. Exod 19:4). In the midst of this great army committed

to the believers' security, they may at last rest and recover from the wounds of

hand-to-hand combat.12

            The comradeship shared with the commander ensures the safety of those

who are too vulnerable to guarantee their own protection. This picture is

reminiscent of Mephibosheth, the disabled son of Jonathon and grandson of Saul.

Though he had no right to expect the generosity of the new king, he found safety

in the house of David because of the integrity of his father. He ate at the table of

David in Jerusalem, and the property that had belonged to his father and grand-

father was guaranteed to him (2 Sam 9:1-13). Even in the midst of rebellion

when another made accusations against him, David upheld his honor (2 Sam

16:1-4; 19:24-29).13

            The second metaphor is the implied table fellowship of him who dwells in

the "shelter of the Most High" (Ps 91:1). The guest is honored with protection

and care. Every need is supplied as suggested in Psalm 23. The covenant benefits

of goodness and love (Ps 23:6) are evident in the experience of dwelling in the

house of the Lord. It is the attention of God to all of the needs of His guest that

brings a sense of refreshment and fulfillment. The Hebrew verb in Ps 23:1 is

haser, meaning "to lack, to need."14  Thus the effect of being the protege of the

Lord is that he will always provide for every need, leading to contentment of

both body and mind. Indeed, the symbolism of leading "beside waters of

restfulness," walking in the valley of the shadow of death, being honored at a


            11 Cohen. The Psalms, 302; Kirkpatrick, Psalms, 553.

            12 Goetsch, The Lord Is My Refuge," 141; J. Richard Chase, "Don't Just Visit the

Secret Place of the Most High—Live There!" Decision 27 ( February 1986): 14; Cohen,

The Psalms, 303.

            13 Goetsch. The Lord Is My Refuge." 141; J. Richard Chase, "Don't Just Visit, 14.

            14 Dennis Sylva. Psalms and the Transformation of Stress: Poetic-Communal

Interpretation and the Family (Louvain Theological and Pastoral Monographs: Eerdrnans,

1993). 78.


284                             RESTORATION QUARTERLY


table set among one's enemies, and the anointing with oil emphasize the

significance of trusting in the Lord.15

            Psalm 91 identifies two qualities of those who are the Lord's guests. First,

they have learned to trust the Lord (vs 2), and second, the gracious kindness of

God has taught them to love their Lord (vs 14). The language of verse 14 means

to cling to the Lord with love. It is used with reference to God's love for Israel

(Deut 7:7–8; 10:15). The identity of the Lord reflected in the acknowledgment

of his name involves an understanding of his identity as the faithful protector of

those who belong to him. In response to this love, they have the Lord's assurance

of safety and security. Even the significance of the Lord (lit., his glory) is

imputed to those who trust him (Ps 91:15). The fullest realization of the protec-

tion of God is experienced in the phrase "my salvation" (Ps 91:16). This phrase

refers to the experience of God's providence in every aspect of the lives of the

individuals, including that which is material as well as that which is spiritual.16

            The parallels to the experience of anxiety, depression, and stress disorders

implied by the images in Psalm 91 have often occupied my thoughts during the

last ten years. Like many in our society, my clients have experienced the

frightening struggles that anxiety imposes on the spirit. During the First World

War, Psalm 91 was known as the "Trench Psalm."17  This psalm described the

trauma that the soldiers of all wars have had to endure. Long before the Diag-

nostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and its predecessors

identified the experience of anxiety, soldiers, citizens, and, today, children in our

schools have encountered the pounding heart, trembling, shortness of breath,

choking, chest pain, sweating, dizziness, and fear of dying that is the essence of

stress, fear, and panic.18 Anxiety and depressive disorders are the most signifi-

cant mental health problem affecting people in our society. Physiological and

psychological conditions, family problems, career difficulties, grief, domestic

abuse, school violence, and media representations of these phenomena in our

living rooms can bring on all of the symptoms of anxiety and depression. In

addition, the choice of how we will live in a sinful world can corrupt our life

experience, leading to crises in relationships, in personality structure, and in our

relationship to God.

            The psalmist encourages the believer to trust in God in the face of such

dramatic, unexpected, traumatic, and even seductive life challenges. However,


            15 Dennis Sylva. Psalms and the Transformation of Stress. 79, 84-91: Eugene H.

Peterson. Psalms. 33–34.

            16 Goetsch. "The Lord Is My Refuge." 144: Cohen. The Psalms. 303: Kirkpatrick.

Psalms. 557–58: Weiser. The Psalms. 612-13.

            17 Goetsch. "The Lord Is My Refuge.'" 143.

            18 American Psychiatric Association. "Anxiety Disorders." in Diagnostic and

Statistical.Maural of Mental Disorders (4th ed.: DSM-IV: Washington. D.C.: American

Psychiatric Association. 1994). 393-444.


            KNIGHT/I WILL SHOW HIM MY SALVATION              285


the impact of life's changes and struggles, especially those that are experienced

as trauma, is to leave one feeling alone and isolated even in the midst of the most

intimate, interpersonal relationships. Job and his wife could not communicate

about their losses, and he could only sit in silence and grieve with the three

friends who had come to comfort him. For seven days, Job had no voice even to

express the depth of his loss (Job 2:9-13). When he could finally speak, his

words expressed how loathsome life had become for him (Job 3). Everything in

this life that gave richness to his experience had suddenly, unexpectedly been

ripped away. The only meaning he could derive, that which caused him the

greatest grief of all, is that he had somehow lost his relationship with God.19 How

could that be, though, since he had done nothing so egregious as to warrant such

unimaginable suffering (Job 13:18; 14:13--17; 16:19; 19:25-27)?

            C. S. Lewis, whose wife of just four short years, Joy Davidman, had died of

cancer, expresses the essence of the loss that the sufferer endures in A Grief


            No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is

            like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the

            yawning. I keep swallowing.

            At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of

            invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone

            says. Or perhaps, hard to, want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the

            others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they

            would talk to one another and not to me.20


Where is God in the midst of such agony? Has he hidden himself from his

servant? God, the Almighty, has become for Lewis, and every sufferer like him,

the great enigma. Lewis says of God that he is like the death of his wife,


            What consumes the sufferer is fear and confusion. The threats enumerated

in Psalm 91:3-7 have become real. Since the current pain had always seemed far

away and impossible, these other threats identified in Psalm 91 were likewise

beyond imagining. Elton Trueblood notes that the experiences of life surprise us

for they reveal unexpected and unacknowledged aspects of our inner selves.22

The heartache that must be suffered by others now has a personal reality. With

the new consciousness of what suffering can feel like, the individual retreats,

defeated, disappointed, and afraid.


            19 H. H. Rowley. "The Book of Job,” in The New Century Bible Commentary (ecl.

Ronald E. Clements; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 19-21.

            20 C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: Bantam Books, 1976), 1-2.

            21 Ibid.. 26—27.

            22 Elton Trueblood. The Common Ventures of Life (New York: Harper and Rovv,

1949). 104.


286                             RESTORATION QUARTERLY


            It is when sufferers are in crisis that they finally seek assistance. The

journey towards the hope alluded to in Psalm 91 begins with the realization that

sufferers will need the assistance of others to reach the refuge of the Lord. Pas-

toral counselors often become the ones who help clients in crisis discover the

meaning of the promises in Psalm 91. Counselors, like the psalmist, must have

experienced the kindness and generosity of the Almighty and learned from the

Lord how to communicate what the experience of a "a compassionate, pene-

trating, rich involvement with others" can mean. Out of the intimacy of their own

relationship with the Lord and sometimes out of the experience of their own

suffering, counselors lead others into a "deeper, worshipful, intimate enjoyment

of God."23

            The first time I noticed Angie, she was standing in the shadow of the

doorjamb to my office. She was herself a shadow, a specter of a person. She had

come to see me against her will because her roommate had threatened to move

out unless Angie sought help. I invited her in, and we began a three-year journey

through the desert that was the grief and shame associated with her experience

of one of the first school shootings to occur in the United States. Angie rehearsed

for me the events that had transformed her life from a normal high school

teenager into a victim. Her life had changed one day several years before when

her teacher asked her to go check out the noise that had, come from a nearby

classroom. That classroom belonged to one of the most popular teachers in the

school, a teacher that Angie liked and admired. Entering the classroom, she was

confronted by a horrific scene in which her teacher had been murdered by a

single shot to the head and the murderer was holding the classroom full of

students hostage. Angie now became a hostage, also. The young man with the

gun taunted the other students with the potential of further violence. But as the

day went on, he released more and more of the students until only Angie was

left. Angie still does not remember the complete sequence of events, but she does

remember finding herself in the hallway, the young man standing behind her

with the gun pointed to the side of her head. At that moment, she believed that

she would be the next to die. Then the custodian, a popular man among the

students, came up to the young man and asked him what he was doing. The

young man took the pistol from Angie's head, pointed it at the custodian, and

shot him dead. The rest of the day was a blur to Angie. She remembers only

somehow finding herself later standing outside the school with other students

and teachers. As is true in so many high profile crimes, Angie would later

experience more trauma as she repeated her understanding of the day's events

to police, to prosecutors, to defense attorneys, and in court before a jury.


            23 Larry Crabb. Understanding People: Deep Longings fir Relationship (Winona

Lake. In.: BMH Books. 1987). 124.


            KNIGHT/I WILL SHOW HIM MY SALVATION              287


          To become Angie's guide in the journey to a more intimate relationship with

the Lord, I had to develop a meaningful relationship with her, for the rapport

developed with the sufferer is the basis for the journey that they take together.24

The teacher celebrates the power of the shared journey in Eccl 4:9-12:

            Two are better than one,

                 because they have a good return for their work:

            If one falls down,

                 his friend can help him up.

            But pity the man who falls

                and has no one to help him up!

            Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

                But how can one keep warm alone'?

            Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

                A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.


The rich, poetic language is a metaphor for a journey that two take together.

They are supports for each other. The confidence that one expresses for the other

makes it possible for them to do difficult things together. In the frigid cold of the

desert night, they keep each other warm, something that is not possible for one

to do alone. As they face the threat of attack, they defend each other. Though it

appears that they are only two, the bond of their relationship is ensured by the

presence of the Lord.

            The first thing that the counselor and client must do is learn how to talk to

one another. Trust is built on understanding. The journey with Angie began with

my listening to her. The focus of the listening was to be able to understand what

the central events in Angie's experience had meant to her. Counselors understand

that the same event can mean different things to different individuals. Thus they

put aside their assumptions and focus all of their attention on the meaning of the

sufferers' words for the sufferers, and them alone. The growth of understanding

creates the bond of trust necessary to take the risks to confront all the pain bound

up in the sufferers' grief. Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu fail Job because

they try to impose meaning on Job's suffering (Job, 4-5, 8, 11, 15, 18, 20, 22.

25, and 32). The Lord recognizes their failure to serve Job, and tells them Job

will pray for them that God may "not deal with [them] according to [their] folly"

(Job 42:7-8).

            Listening is particularly important because those traumatized by life find

that the anxiety they are experiencing seems to steal their voice. The goal of

listening is to give sufferers back their voice and help them feel heard again. It


            24 Scott D. Miller, Barry L. Duncan, and Mark A. Hubble, Escape from Babel:

Toward a Unifying Language for Psychotherapy Practice (New York: Norton, 1997),



288                             RESTORATION QUARTERLY


begins with sufferers telling their story. But there is the additional goal of

teaching the sufferers how to pray with power and hope again. Trusting in the

Lord means having the confidence to "acknowledge [his] name" and "call upon

[him]" with the assurance that he will answer. This is the promise God makes to

those who love Him (Ps 91:14-15).

            The longing to pray is a powerful drive for those who have known the

presence of the Lord. Several years ago, I counseled a woman who had

experienced losses truly comparable to those of Job. After many months, we

agreed that she had made sufficient progress that we could terminate therapy. In

the closing session, she told me that she had come to therapy all of those months

for one reason. She said that the one thing that had been most important to her

in every therapy session was the time that we would spend in prayer.

            In Psalm 91, the believer who wants to trust the Lord is aware of the

potential threats and dangers to be faced. Clients in counseling who have

experienced an overwhelming trauma may find it difficult to risk any new threats

in their emotional landscape that may arise during therapy. The deadly pestilence

referred to in Psalm 91:3, 6, is frightening because it catches people suddenly

and they have no way to protect themselves. The plague suggests the deadliness

of a chasm into which the unwary may tumble, never to be seen again.25  This

unexpectedness creates intense anxiety for those who have already stumbled.

Afraid of once again being injured, travelers may become frozen by fear,

unwilling to move to the right or to the left, tok go forward, or to return. The

journal of Ernest Shackleton describes the horrors of the traveler who passes

over the unstable snow and ice of the Antarctic. His team struggles against all

odds to reach the South Pole. On the great glacier, he records the maze of

crevasses that constantly threatened their safety. For December 7, 1908, he


      Started at 8 a. m.. Adams. Marshall and self pulling one sledge. Wild leading Socks

       [the pony] behind. We traveled up and down slopes with very deep snow, into which

      Socks sank up to his belly, and we plunged in and out continuously, making it very

      trying work. Passed several crevasses on our right hand and could see more to the

      left. The light became bad at l p.m., when we camped for lunch, and it was hard to

      see the crevasses as most were more or less snow covered. After lunch the light was

      better, and as we marched along we were congratulating ourselves upon it when

      suddenly we heard a shout to "help" from Wild. We stopped at once and rushed to

      his assistance, and saw the pony sledge with the forward end down a crevasse and

      Wild reaching out from the side of the gulf grasping the sledge. No sign of the pony.

      We soon got up to Wild and he scrambled out of the dangerous position but poor

      Socks had gone. Wild had a miraculous escape.26


            25 Goetsch. The Lord Is My Refuge." 142.

            26 Ernest Shackleton. The Heart of the Antarctic: The Farthest South Expedition,

1907-1919 (New York: Signet). 205.


            KNIGHT/I WILL SHOW HIM MY SALVATION              289


       For travelers traumatized by the anxieties of the journey, trust does not come

easily and the focus is not on loving but on surviving. Although the travelers

long for relationship, they fear the risk. The cumulative result of their losses is

that they feel unworthy of meaningful connections with others and incapable of

establishing them. In addition, they must often struggle against feelings of anger

and bitterness born of confusion and directed at the Almighty, whom they feel

has deserted them. C. S. Lewis demonstrates this pain in his own words as he

struggles with his confusion about his wife's death and about whether this

anguish can even end with death:


      "Because she is in God's hands." But if so, she was in God's hands all the time, and

      I have seen what they did to her. Do they suddenly become gentler to us the moment

      we are out of the body? And if so, why? If God's goodness is inconsistent with

      hurting us then either God is not good or there is no God: for in the only life we

      know He hurts us beyond our worst fears and beyond all we can imagine. If it is

      inconsistent with hurting us then He may hurt us after death as unendurably as

      before it.

      Sometimes it is hard not to say. "God forgive God."

      Sometimes it is hard to say so much. But if our faith is true, He didn't. He crucified



            In their anger and bitterness, the weary travelers struggle to believe the bold

assertion that "you will not fear"(Ps 91:5). For the psalmist, "the terror of the

night" and "the arrow that flies by day" may be metaphors for the sudden attack

of the enemy, but for those governed by fear, the night has its own smothering

impact. Sudden awakenings from frightening dreams in which the horror of their

trauma is replayed bring a heightened sense of anxiety, disorientation and diffi-

culty going back to sleep. Their fear of the night adds to their struggle and makes

it difficult to find the peace and rest that seems to be promised in Psalm 91.28

Finding meaning in suffering is a significant part of the journey to healing.

This involves helping clients to resolve issues of guilt and shame. Lewis Smedes

points out that "shame is a very heavy feeling. It is a feeling that we do not

measure up and maybe never will measure up to the sorts of persons we are

meant to be." He adds: “The feeling of shame is about our very selves--not

about some bad thing we did or said but about what we are.”29 Almost all who

have suffered as victims must deal with the guilt and shame they feel about being


            27 C. S. Lewis. A Grief Observed, 29.

            28 Ash and Miller. "Psalm 91." 318: American Psychiatric Association, "Nightmare

Disorder" and "Sleep Terror Disorder" in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental

Disorders (4th ed.), 580-87.

            29 Lewis B. Smedes. Shame and Grace (San Francisco: Zondervan. 5-6. See

also Julie J. Exline and Roy F. Baumeister. "Expressing Forgiveness and Repentance" in

Forgiveness: Theory Research, and Practice (ed. Michael E. McCullough, Kenneth I.

Pargament, and Carl E. Thoresem New York: Guilford Press, 2000), 142.


290                             RESTORATION QUARTERLY


victims. Sexual abuse, rape, assault, robbery— violence of every kind leaves a

stain of self-loathing on the victims as though the victims, themselves, were

somehow responsible for what had taken place in their lives.30 This is the

"fowler's snare," "the pestilence," and "the plague" by which Satan often sepa-

rates the weak and helpless from the Lord. The goal in counseling is to convince

sufferers of the truth of the Paul's statement in Rom 8:1–2: "Therefore, there is

now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ

Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death."

            Central to Angie's healing process was the sense of guilt and shame that she

carried with her. This shame got mixed up with other events in her childhood and

her adolescence about which she also felt guilt. It was often difficult to separate

the meaning of these events in Angie's understanding of herself. The healing

began with the experience of having someone who listened to her accounts of all

of these events and who accepted her unconditionally. We were able, again and

again, to confront the pain and the accompanying guilt she carried with her, and

session by session she was able to leave small parts of it with me.

            To help Angie process her shame and guilt interpretation, we had to investi-

gate the meaning of these events in her life-setting. Family and community

systems as well as cultural and ethnic issues often play important roles in the

guilt that people struggle with as victims. Very often societal expectations about

what individuals should have done and about how long the healing process

should take add to the suffering.31 The community, the church, and the family

also have difficulty realizing that victims may feel a need for forgiveness. The

task of counselors is to help clients separate true guilt for things they have

actually done from false guilt for things that have been done to them.32

            For sin that is real, repentance, confession, and prayer are necessary to

healing. In Psalm 91, the faith of the psalmist encourages the readers to risk

trusting in the Lord. In the pastoral setting, clients lean on the faith of counselors

and hope their confession of sin may lead to relief from guilt and shame. This

part of the journey offen moves slowly as the sufferers' trust and confidence in

the Lord are restored. Counselors must be faithful and patient guides over the

difficult terrain at this point in the journey, kindly lifting up and supporting their


            30 John P. Splinter, The Healing Path: A Guide for Women Rebuilding Their Lives

after Sexual Abuse (Nashville: Nelson, 1993), 146-47.

            31 Smedes, Shame and Grace, 69-82:, Splinter, The Healing Path, 155-56; Exline

and Baumeister, "Expressing Forgiveness and Repentance," 143.

            32 Smedes. Shame and Grace, 31-44; Splinter. The Healing Path. 146-49:

Anderson. Zuehlke, and Zuehlke, Christ Centered Therapy: The Practical Integration of

Theology and Psychology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2000), 267-71; Frank N. Thomas

and Thorana S. Nelson. Tales from Family Therapy: Life-Changing Clinical Experiences

(New York: Haworth. 1998). 175-79.


            KNIGHT/I WILL SHOW HIM MY SALVATION              291


fellow travelers. As faith grows, sufferers begin to release the guilt and claim the

promises of protection and deliverance (Ps 91:14-15).33

            There is also the matter of the anger that is felt towards the offenders. In

Psalm 91, the writer identifies the "fowler" as the one who has intentionally set

"snares" to entrap others (Ps 91:3). Having suffered painfully at the hands of

another, sufferers find themselves bound to those people by their anger and sense

of injustice. It is a difficult struggle for them to forgive and let go of the past.

The metaphor in my work with Angie was a prison cell. Early in the process, I

discovered that she was emotionally locked in the same cell with her tormentor.

Many issues such as fear that transgressions will be repeated or the belief that

justice will not be done can be barriers to forgiveness. But forgiveness is not

always about justice; very often it is about mercy, and the journey to mercy and

grace can be very difficult.34

       Research suggests five aspects of the forgiveness process. They include first

the acknowledgment of strong emotions such as fear, hurt, and rage. Second,

individuals must be willing to let go of previously unmet needs such as failure

on the part of perpetrators to repent of and apologize for their behavior. Third,

there must be a shift in the sufferers' attitude toward the offender. Fourth,

empathy for the offenders and some understanding of their motivations develops.

Finally, sufferers must develop a new, healthier view of themselves and the other


            The journey from prison cell to freedom progressed slowly for Angie. As

discussions of the perpetrator developed, Angie came to accept him as a person

with great pain in his own life. Her empathy for him grew; thus she vvas

eventually able to open the door to their prison cell and step from it. As

forgiveness for him progressed and she acknowledged that many of these

memories and feelings needed to remain. in the past, she was able to take other

steps on her journey to freedom. One day she voluntarily returned to the school,

to visit, the first time she had returned, since her graduation. Then one day she

took a letter she had written to her beloved teacher and left it on the teacher's

grave. Later she brought me the packed file of clippings from newspapers and

magazines that reported the events of the shooting. That day, and for several

more, we sat in my office going through the file and reading the articles. As we

finished each one, I would ask her what she wanted to do with it. For most of


                33 Splinter, The Healing Path, 158-64; Anderson, Zuehlke, and Zuehlke, Christ

Centered Therapy, 271-74.

            34 Exline and Baumeister. "Expressing Forgiveness and Repentance," 147.

Wanda W. Malcolm and Leslie S. Greenberg, "Forgiveness as a Process of Change

in Individual Psychotherapy." in Forgiveness: Theory Research, and Practice, 179-81.

See also. Kristina C. Gordon, Donald H. Baucom, and Douglas K. Snyder, "The Use of

Forgiveness in Marital Therapy," in Forgiveness: Theory Research, and Practice,



292                             RESTORATION QUARTERLY


them, she chose the garbage can that I had set in the middle of my office floor.

When we had finished this task, she had discarded many of the evidences of her

suffering, and this physical act emphasized that she had left the prison of her

past. Later, there were other days, usually on or near the anniversary, when she

would return and we would spend some more time talking and praying. But these

visits were brief, and she moved on with her life. Occasionally now, I get a

phone call or a visit when she returns home, but these are times in which we are

celebrating the joy that God is giving her.

       The second half of Psalm 91 reflects the victory that Angie has found of this

point in her journey. Echoing verses 1-2, the opening couplet (9-10) states:


            If you make the Most High your dwelling—

                even the Lord, who is my refuge—

            then no harm will befall you,

                no disaster will come near your tent.


The psalmist now builds promise upon promise. Help and protection as well as

rescue and redemption are dedicated to those who love the Lord and know His

name. Each promise sounds more glorious rising toward the ultimate goal (16):36


            With long life will I satisfy him

                        and show him my salvation.





                36 Delitzsch. The Psalms, 64.





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