8 Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
— Psalm 46:8–11 —
Has the election season of 2016 brought unusual stress? If so, consider the words of Psalm 46, a psalm which gives us to truths for troubled times.
In that passage, the Sons of Korah — a people whose own existence depended on the sheer grace of God in the face of cataclysmic judgment (see Numbers 16) — speak of fearlessness in the face of a crumbling world. They write,
1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
My question: Where do they find the grace to say “we will not fear though the earth and that is in it gives way”? To most of us when the foundations shake and the rafters rock, we tremble. And in that trembling we look for cover, yet hasty searches for safety in tremulous times often leads to devastating results.
The answer comes to us in verse 1, “God is our refuge and strength.” Because he is a refuge, we don’t need to look for another. And because he is present with us in the chaos of this fallen world (“a very present help in trouble”), therefore we will not fear. Still, such fearlessness takes more than the right answers to theology exam; it takes personal knowledge of a God who is with us and for us.
Two Truths for Troubled Times
1. God is with us.
In verses 4–7, the sons of Korah speak of God’s abiding presence in his city, with his people. Verse 4 speaks of God’s holy habitation as a place where his presence refreshes his people like ‘a river whose streams make glad the City of God.’ Verse 5 says he is “in the midst of her,” protecting her from movement and helping her when the light of dawn reveals the destruction of the night. In the face of the nation’s aggression (v. 6), “the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
These words promised Israel God’s physical protection; they promise us the same—only our physical protection is secured in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a new creation that this fallen world cannot touch. Such truth breeds confidence in God’s people, for not even death itself can separate us from God, his goodness, and the love of his Son (see Romans 8:31–39). This is the first truth to consider when (indeed, before) the earth gives way.
2. God is for us.
Verses 8–9 invite the faithful to “come, behold the works of the Lord.” They recount God’s historical actions against wicked nations. “He has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns chariots with fire.” To those who make war, the arm of the Lord is not short. He will, in time, bring their conquests to an end. Beyond the reach of our comprehension, he may be using wicked nations like Assyria (Isaiah 10) or Babylon (Habakkuk) to fulfill his purposes, but even their wickedness will not go unpunished.
Verse 10 continues this theme of God for us. While it is often read in isolation as a beloved promise for serenity, verse 10 is better seen as a word to the nations. “Be still” is military command to prisoners of war to stop fighting, and the refrain of the Lord’s exaltation is a promise that no prince or president will steal God’s glory. Instead, like the Pharaoh of old, they too will be a prop for God’s greater glory (see Romans 9:17).
To sum up: there is no power, person, or political regime that will undo this fact: the glory of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14). Why can God’s people rest secure? Because our hope is found in this immoveable promise: he works for our good, and our good is rooted in his eternal, universal glory. And if this is your, then it gives us confidence that no matter what happens on earth, it will not undo our hope.
Take Refuge the God who is With Us and For Us
In short, our temporary hopes are chastened and corrected by this ultimate hope and God’s absolute promise. This is the posture of heart we need in a world that is on the verge of destruction. When the mountains fall into the sea or superpowers crumble from within, fearlessness is only possible as we keep our eyes fixed on the Lord.
In a season of great turmoil, we must remember that the Christian’s blessed hope (Titus 2:13) does not rise or fall with princes and presidents. Yes, our emotions do, as does our ability to freely live, move, and have our being. But because the Christian gospel stands on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our hope is never purged, only purified. And that purification, only as we continue to abide in these twin truths—God is with us and God is for us.
In this tumultuous season and volatile world, may God give us peace as we press into him and his truth.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds