Psalm 46: Refuge and Strength

I recently shared how Psalm 46 is becoming one of my favourite Psalms. In today’s short reflection I want to start to share why this is. Regular readers should note that I’m not attempting to do proper theology or exegesis of this Psalm, but merely share how and why I’ve found it so powerful recently.

Verses 1-3 read thusly, in the ESV translation that I like to use:

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way
    and the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
 though its waters roar and foam

    and the mountains tremble at its swelling.

The Psalm starts not with the trouble the Psalmist is in, but with God himself. I read recently that if you can only remember snippets of Scripture, start with single verses. Here, surely, is the starting place. God.

We might wonder, what about God? There is so much about God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, that we could think about.

Psalm 46 prods us back to reality, and away from the ephemeral, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble“. This is a wonderful reminder of the relationship that God has with his children – that he is the one we can find refuge in, and the one who gives us strength. This is immensely reassuring, and a powerful posture to start the day with. I might be ill – God is my refuge and strength. I might be nervous about work – God is my refuge and strength. I might not be able to get out of bed – God is my refuge strength. In this, in invoking the name of God, he demonstrates that he is indeed a very present help. And here’s the thing – we will find ourselves in trouble, no matter who we are – and yet as children of God we have God himself as our refuge and strength.

Verses 2 and 3 are a little more challenging. A number of people who’ve either taught me or modelled to me how to read the Bible have emphasised that when we see a ‘therefore’, we should ask ‘what it is there for’. If, like me, you find yourself puzzling over where God is in a given storm, season of repentance, confusing life change, or other difficult time, this verse seems like ‘one more thing’ to do! But what if it isn’t? What if the facts of verse 1 – that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble – aren’t demanding us to thus not have fear, but telling us about the way things will be? What if the simple fact that God is God, means that, ultimately, we will not fear? Fear surrounds – and in the political and meteorological climate this summer there is much to fear – but fear does not have the last word.

Ponder the language here. The earth gives way – maybe we should be careful not to put too much stock in the stability of where we live, or the worlds we inhabit on and offline. The mountains are moved into the heart of the sea – unthinkable, yet not any more, as we learn more of climate change, or Pompeii, or a million other natural disasters. The waters roar and foam – the chaos and power of nature is daunting, even in its beauty.

And the reminder creeps back in again.

God is my refuge and strength

Therefore we will not fear

I am someone who finds fear very easy – and if I take this passage as a command, it is very easy for me to become despondent and dwell on the sadder things in my life and the world. But what if I was invited out of fear and into something else? The realm of facts and faith, refuge and strength, present help in trouble? Then something shifts, something changes even in my addled mind, and I am reminded that, even though the storms of life both internal and external rage, there is one who knows, one who cares, one who loves.

God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

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