Reading a newspaper or watching the news on TV can be a depressing experience sometimes, can’t it? So often they carry news of disaster, war and downright evil. News of human behaviour and the natural world at their worst.
The writer of our Psalm this morning lived long before the era of instant communication and 24 hour news channels, but he was well aware of the conflict and chaos that can engulf our world. For example, he knows of natural disasters, events like earthquakes and hurricanes – events that can make the “mountains quake” and the “waters roar”. And the arrival of personal troubles or temptations may make the earth seem to “give way” beneath our feet – as the psalmist knows full well (v.2).
Social upheaval, armed conflict and political crises were familiar dangers to our Bible author too, because in verse 8 he writes of “nations in uproar”, and “kingdoms falling”. In our day he might have mentioned the rise of IS in Iraq, the spread of Ebola in West Africa, or the scourge of unemployment in the Western world. And on this Remembrance Sunday we all passionately share his hope that one day “wars will cease to the ends of the earth” (v9).
Faced with such instability and uncertainty in our world, it is natural for us to seek safety, security and refuge. But sadly, many people turn to all the wrong places:
- For example, many pursue ‘retail therapy’ by seeking contentment in consumer goods. They seek happiness in their possessions and ‘shop til they drop’. But consumerism can provide no long term contentment, no satisfying answers, no lasting hope.
- Others put their faith in the government to help them in the face of financial hardship, failing health or foreign aggression. But no government is all-powerful or completely competent. No government has enough resources to guarantee total peace and prosperity to its people.
- And so many people look to themselves for security, whether it’s their own bank balance, their insurance policy, their pension plan or their innate abilities. But inflation, the taxman and the march of time all take their toll in the end.
Against all these alternatives, our Bible reading today tells us that only the Lord can help us in our chaotic and compromised world. It reminds us that only God can be our true “refuge and strength” in times of trouble.
The author of Psalm 46 wants to persuade us that God, and only God, can be both our present help and our eternal saviour. He wants us all to turn to the Lord to find security in the present and hope for the future.
- Our Present Help
Our psalmist begins by promising that God can help us through all the twists and turns of life. If we turn to him in faith, if we put our trust in him, he will be our “ever-present help in trouble” (v.1).
The God of the Bible is not a distant deity, but a person who loves to help his people. He is a God who is willing to intervene when we are in need. He is able to help us when times are tough. He is able to help us whether our needs are material or spiritual. He can give us courage and strength in the face of physical adversity, and he can give us forgiveness and a new start when we experience guilt or despair.
When Psalm 46 was first written God had just intervened in history to help his people. In 701 BC God had miraculously protected and preserved the city of Jerusalem. The city had been under siege by the Assyrian army. Jerusalem was surrounded on all sides, its people inside starving to death. The Assyrian king Sennacherib was near the height of his powers. But God had helped his besieged city. In just one night God defeated Sennacherib’s army and scattered his soldiers. The “break of day” (v.5) revealed that Jerusalem had been liberated by the Lord, and saved from its siege.
Christians, of course, can also look back to an even greater ‘break of day’ on the first Easter morning. That dawn when Jesus’ disciples discovered the Empty Tomb. That dawn when God once again intervened in history – this time to disarm death and offer forgiveness to every follower of his Son. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, God offers us forgiveness for our past and a new beginning for our lives – if only we will receive it.
But forgiveness isn’t the only help he offers us. Verses 4 and 5 of our psalm also remind us that God loves to dwell in the midst of his people, he delights to be present with those he has saved. No human needs to face the trials and temptations of the world alone. God wants to dwell within us, giving us the courage, strength and perseverance we need in the face of hardship.
In Old Testament times God’s powerful presence dwelt in the midst of his people Israel. First in a tent with Moses and the Israelites in the Wilderness, and then in the heart of the Jerusalem Temple – in its most “Holy Place” (v.4). A glorious cloud used to appear in the Tent and Temple to show the people of Israel that God had come among them. To show them he was living in their midst.
Today, God has gone one step further. Since the coming of Christ, God has promised to dwell within the hearts of every Christian. God now offers to be an even closer companion than Moses and the Israelites experienced. The Bible tells us that Christians are now God’s Temple on earth, the place where his Spirit dwells. If we come to Christ, God will put his Holy Spirit within us. A Holy Spirit who can change us for the better, a Holy Spirit who can guide us through the challenges of life. A Holy Spirit who can give us courage in the face of conflict and crisis. If we turn to the Lord his Spirit will be our constant help, a comforting presence, our closest friend.
- Our Eternal Saviour
But we also need God’s help in the future as well as for today. The Bible is clear that we can know him as our eternal Saviour as well as our help in the present. In our uncertain world, characterised by so much sin, conflict and apparent chaos, we all need hope for the future. The great promise and reassurance in our passage today is that one day all wars will be ended, all weapons silenced, and every wrong made right. The Bible is unequivocal that there will be a great day of reckoning, a day when evil will be judged and jettisoned, a day when the world will be restored and renewed.
Our Psalm promises that on that great day God will “break the bow and shatter the spear, and burn the shields with fire”. He will disarm every army and overthrow every evil regime. On that day, God will tell the whole world to “Be still”, to be quiet, to recognise him as its rightful ruler – as its “exalted” king (v.10). On that day every war will cease. Natural disaster and disease will be destroyed. Even death will be defeated, because every Christian will enjoy new life in a new creation.
If you struggle to believe all this, then the New Testament gives us a foretaste of that great day to come. Remember what Jesus said to the wind and the waves, when he and the disciples were stuck in a storm in the middle of Lake Galilee? Jesus said “Be still” and all was calm. The wind and the waves stood still. One day Christ will say “Be Still” to every part of creation. One day all conflict, strife and suffering will end. One day God’s kingdom will truly come.
And as we await that great day, can I encourage us all to learn the lesson from our Psalm today. Put your trust in the Lord for forgiveness for your past, for help in the present, and for hope for the future. On this Remembrance day, and every day, make him your refuge and your strength.