Written by Dr. Ken Cuffey, President and Professor of Biblical Studies
Monday, April 13, 2020
April 13, 2020—who would have predicted even a few months ago that life and society would look anything like they do—lock downs, spreading virus, mortality, social distancing, church services and work meetings all on Zoom? We watch the pandemic spread and stymie health care capacities, taking lives away each day. Longing for a human touch, but we don’t dare. The news carries briefings from each level of government each day—new measures to contain the spread, sad litanies of increasing cases and mounting death tolls, along with the note that some recover. Our natural response is anxiety and fear. We face the fact that we really are not in control of what happens to us, in reality are not the masters of our own destiny. For many it feels that there’s almost nothing we are able to control. This unseen plague appears to strike whom it will. We are confronted with our mortality and the limits of our days on earth.
Is there hope? Is there any realistic and objective antidote to anxiety? Anything to lessen the panic so many feel? In order to answer these, it’s worth our time to open Psalm 46. One reason I love this Psalm is the opening picture of confident hope in God. I also love that it places this promise against a backdrop of chaos and terror. It starts with wonderful assurance, but then sets it within such a world—much like what we realize our world really is, and always has been. It seems especially appropriate that we look at Psalm 46 at this odd moment in our history, when it feels (correctly) that we can’t control what’s around us.
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah.
The Psalm begins with the confident and robust hope of a promise grounded in who our God is. God is described as a refuge, a word picture of a place we can go to for safety and protection. Presumably the surroundings are full of threat and danger for us to need such. He is also a strength. If the first image is of God as a shelter external to us who is able to shield us from what lurks without, the second pictures him as a source of something inside us—a source of strength or power. It says this is for us, those who trust him, those who lay hold of his grace and protection. Thirdly, he is a help, specifically he supports us. Then it also hints at what’s coming—the surroundings in which we live here on earth, described as trouble, or distress. Immediately, before we even leave this verse, we discover that this image is not an unrealistic assurance of a distant God, but a promise that he plans to sustain us by being at our side even through the worst of times.
The therefore at the start of verse 2 draws the conclusion, which is then set down in the most ruggedly realistic description of our setting in life in this broken world that’s out of our control. What is the conclusion? Therefore we will not fear! The claim is that this is the antidote to anxiety, fear, terror. But look at what’s happening around us in 2020. Isn’t this a placid assurance that shows the Psalmist hasn’t thought ahead about more dire days?
It is an assurance that God will be there with us. But it lets us in on a startling truth—he will be there with us when it is at its very worst! No fear, the Psalmist asserts, even though the earth give way. The word may simply describe the earth shaking. Have you ever been in an earthquake? Felt the earth shaking beneath your feet? Now there’s a situation that you can’t control. Nothing you can do to make it stop. Then it extends the image of how dire are our straits here on earth—and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. Mountains are usually a literary image of steadfastness and immovability. In this Psalm they reel and totter to fall into the heart of the sea. This is definitely not your vacation on the beach, sitting on the sand, with waves in front, gentle breeze on your cheek, and pretty mountains behind. Here the rocky heights collapse into the sea. Imagine the roiling waves! The text tells us the waters roar and foam. You can hear the turbulence, you can see the upheaval in the water’s white foam. It goes on—the mountains quake with their surging. The shaking of our world continues on—the mountains keep shaking as the waters rage.
There you have it. God’s Word pulls no punches. The peaceful-sounding promise of God as a shelter where we can run for protection, and a spring of inner power, is set against the very worst this world can offer. The promise is offered against the backdrop of an earth giving way, mountains collapsing into the tides, and roaring waters. This symbolizes life in our world that is out of our control, fearful, dangerous. It is in that kind of world that we flee to God as a refuge . . . a world like the one that so many are discovering in the threat of COVID-19 this year. He is Creator and Sovereign, he made this all. Only he can protect; only he can shelter each one of us. And he is the one who is all wise, and can work his plans in spite of the brokenness of our world. His desire is for our wholeness and that we’d grow more and more like him. He can use all this towards that end.
In the powerful name of Jesus, Amen.