Why You Don't Have to Fear Terror

You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. –Psalm 91:5–6

You don’t have to be afraid. These verses in Psalm 91 encompass the whole of your experience. Night or day, at any point throughout the week, or any season of life, you don’t have to be afraid. But why?

We understand Psalm 91:5–6 by looking at what precedes it in verse 4: “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” God is a faithful refuge. He is trustworthy. He is righteousness. He always does what he says. But even still, how is he trustworthy for you? How is his faithfulness of benefit for you today? And tomorrow? Yes, God is committed to upholding the glory of his name and unceasingly doing what is right — but this would all be true even if you didn’t exist.

How Does It Apply to You?

So how does God’s faithfulness apply to you in particular, and therefore make it so that you don’t have to be afraid?

The answer, in short, is that Psalm 91:5–6 is not ultimately talking about you. (This is the counter-intuitive wonder of the Psalms: our lives are impacted most by realizing that the Psalms are not finally about us. They're about Jesus).

The you in “you will not fear,” in its fullest and final sense, is the Lord Jesus. In the final tally, the psalmist is talking to him.

Reading Like the Evangelists

This is the way the Gospel writers understood Psalm 91. When Satan quotes Psalm 91:11 in Matthew 4:6, he knew that this psalm was about the Messiah, God’s specially anointed one.

Satan’s logic went this way: Psalm 91 is talking about the Messiah, so then Jesus of Nazareth, if you really are the Messiah, then Psalm 91 should apply to you. Now prove it.

Well yes, it does apply to Jesus. But he won't be coerced to prove it. And furthermore, he won't bypass the road to Calvary. God's steadfast love doesn't mean the absence of pain, not for Jesus and not for us. (God showed him salvation (Psalm 91:16), but remember the empty tomb came after a blood-soaked cross).

Full of Terror

The wilderness temptations must have been a season of terror. Jesus was surrounded by the snare of the fowler (Psalm 91:3). The enemy was coming at him with guns blazing, trying to hinder his mission, hoping to ruin his faith. But the Father was his refuge. The Father’s faithfulness was like a shield.

Jesus endured that temptation. He persevered. He trusted God. He did not fear. And in fact, as Mark tells us, he was ministered to by angels and was with the wild animals (fulfulling Psalm 91:11–13).

Fearless Faith for Our Sake

Precisely because Jesus didn’t have to be afraid, precisely because the Father is faithful to his Son, we don’t have to be afraid either — so long as we are in Christ. The decisive work has been done. The life of fearless faith has been lived for us, in divine-human perfection. And when we embrace this Jesus, when we trust him and are made new creatures in him, then all of his fearlessness is rightfully ours. All of the Father’s faithfulness to him — the shield and refuge — is ours.

Psalm 91 has been perfectly embodied, in time and space, by the very Son of God in human flesh. You don’t have to be afraid.


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Jonathan Parnell (@jonathanparnell) is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God, and is the lead planter of Cities Church in Minneapolis–Saint Paul, where he lives with his wife, Melissa, and their four children. He is also the co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.