God is our refuge, says Psalm 46, an ever present help in trouble. Everyone knows trouble. Some people know a lot of trouble:
- Job loss and other financial distress
- Relationship troubles, which can include various toxic relationships or the loss of loved ones.
- Sickness and injury
- Oppression and persecution
- War and violence
- All manner of natural disasters
We commonly call the natural disasters “acts of God.” It takes robust faith to believe that God is our help in trouble. Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
So faith in more than a matter of agreeing with some statement about God, that he exists. That much is necessary, but the faith that pleases God requires believing that he rewards the people who seek him.
Why would we want to develop faith so that God will be pleased with us? The whole concept of pleasing God may bring up a picture of God waiting impatiently for some mis-step, for some reason not to be pleased.
Developing faith, as opposed to agreeing with a statement, entails learning how wrong that picture of God is. We can’t continue to believe that God is some cantankerous tyrant and believe that he rewards those who earnestly seek him! Why? Because no one would want to seek a cantankerous tyrant. The very act of desiring to seek God demonstrates a belief that God is somehow loving.
Yet look at some of the troubles that the psalmist mentions:
- The earth gives way.
- The mountains fall into the sea.
- The sea waters roar.
- The mountains quake (vv. 2-3)
- Nations are in uproar; kingdoms fall (v. 6)
- The earth melts (v. 6)
- God himself brings desolations on the earth (v.8)!
Amid that uproar, the psalm promises a river and a holy, peaceful city that will not fall. God makes wars cease all over the world and destroys the weapons of mankind (v. 9). And in v. 11 he commands, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.”
God will be exalted. Which God? The tyrant who will crush all opposition? Well, yes, that God. But consider the opposition: all the wars on earth, not only the wars between nations, but the wars in all human relationships that cause so much pain, even the wars each of us fights within ourselves, unimagined by most of the people we meet.
God stands in opposition to all that harms us, to all the variety of troubles. He is not the cause. He is our refuge, if we seek him. He is our strength, if we come close enough. The desolations he has brought on the earth? They are a necessary consequence of putting an end to our wars.
The psalmist concludes that God is with us, not against us. God is our fortress, a tower we can run to for refuge.
In fact, Psalm 46 inspired one of the greatest hymns of faith of all time, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” by Martin Luther. The English translation in most hymnals, unfortunately, is almost unintelligible. I found a more easily understandable one at SmallChurchMusic.com
A Mighty fortress is our God,
A trusty shield and weapon;
He helps us free from every need
That hath us now overtaken.
The Old evil foe
Now means deadly woe
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On earth is not his equal.
With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the valiant One,
Whom God himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is,
Of sabaoth Lord,
And there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever.
Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpower us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
He’s judged; the deed is done’
On little world can fell him.
The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain
With his good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone,
Our victory has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.