Meditations for Troubled Times
“To God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” (Psalm 46:1-3)
Psalm 46 is written to comfort God’s people in distress. It does so by directing our attention to the greatness of God, who is with us in every tight spot, in every danger, in every potentially overwhelming situation. He defends us and comforts us, reminding us that, amidst all of life’s instability there is one constant: the all-powerful God.
Such truth made this Luther’s favorite psalm. He wrote his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” on the way to the Diet of Worms in 1521. There this trembling monk would stand on the truth of the Scripture against the assaults of Rome, the devil, and his own flesh. Though the attacks were severe, he believed God is a bulwark never failing.
Indeed, throughout Luther’s entire life, in his darkest times, he would say, “Come, let us sing the 46th Psalm, and let them do their worst.” But this isn’t a psalm to sing only when gospel-enemies rail. It’s medicine for the soul against any upheaval. The Psalmist is saying, “See the safety afforded you with your God! Trust him!”
When do we trust him? The situation pictured in verses 2-3 is of the whole world being turned upside down. This is on the scale of a world-ending catastrophe. Of course, we should not only look to our God when the sky is falling. It’s simply figurative language for all the earth-shattering trouble we might experience in a world under the curse. And a cursed world holds a load of instability for us. So, how do we cope during all of life’s upheavals?
The Psalmist gives us the means to our stability by telling us three things about God, which lift the eyes of our faith upwards in soul-shaking uncertainty. Who is God? He is a refuge, a strength, and a very present help in trouble. It should be noted that directing our eyes to God’s attributes is a constant pattern in the psalms. Therefore, it should be a constant pattern in our lives.
Turbulent circumstances frequently threaten us whether it be many enemies (Psalm 3), our own downcast soul (Psalms 42 and 43), or the guilt of our own sin (Psalm 130). In every case, what does the Psalmist do? He looks to God. Particularly, he praises the attributes of God: “But You, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3). “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4). “But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared” (Psalm 130:4).
Do you see how valuable it is to know the attributes of God? They are not mere doctrinal points to be recited: God is a Spirit infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. You need to know this. You need to lodge this statement in your heart. But then these truths about God’s character must fire your prayers. They must lift your head from shaky circumstances, when the earth feels like it’s giving way, to behold who God is! You must say to your soul, “Here is reality: God as he reveals himself and not how I presently feel! Look to him! Cling to him!”