by Matthew W. Bassford
Never in my lifetime have I seen an event have as significant effect on daily life as the coronavirus epidemic. I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9-11, but in both cases, it was business as usual almost everywhere. Not so with the coronavirus! Indeed, it even has affected our worship here.
I don’t know how most feel about this, but I myself find it profoundly unsettling. Lots of things that I thought would go on unchanged suddenly have changed. Dealing with a crisis like this is outside the experience of even our oldest and wisest elders. The future is uncertain and may be bleak.
However, despite the uncertainties of life, one thing does remain certain. Stores may have closed, schools may have shut down, but God is still God. Indeed, He is still the same God He was thousands of years ago, a God who protected His people from every calamity and disaster so long as they trusted in Him. This morning, then, I would like to go through Psalm 46 to see what we can learn from its depiction of God as our stronghold.
Trusting God No Matter What
The first thing that we see here is the importance of trusting God no matter what. Look at Psalm 46:1-3. I have to say, I really love the CSB rendering of verse 1 here. It tells us that God is a helper who is always found in times of trouble. Not part of the time. Not even most of the time. All the time. When things are worst, that’s when God is closest!
Because that is true, we as His people don’t have to be afraid. People in the world, sure. Frankly, they should be afraid. They’ve put all their hopes in this life, all that they worked so hard for is being disrupted, and even life itself may end much sooner than they were expecting. If I were in that position, I would be terrified!
However, we have not put our hope in this life. We have put our hope in God, and that is very different. We know that as long as we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. He will be with us through every day of our lives, and He will continue to be our strength and our protector even after our lives are over.
This doesn’t mean that we should abuse His protection by being heedless and foolish. God expects us to be wise, plan for the future, and take precautions. However, we do not rely on those precautions. We rely on God, and He will not disappoint us.
God will protect us, and that is true without exception. In Psalms 46:2-3 here, the psalmist is envisioning essentially the destruction of the physical creation. As God once separated the land from the waters, the psalmist is imagining the earth collapsing back into the waters, so that everything becomes formless and empty again. Even then, says the psalmist, God’s people don’t have to be afraid. It is still true today that no matter how bad things get, we can continue to trust God.
God's Help for His City
The second portion of Psalm 46 concerns God's help for His city. Let’s continue in Psalm 46:4-7. This is about the city of Jerusalem. The psalmist expresses his conviction that she will never be toppled. Why? Because she is the dwelling place of the Most High. She might endure some long, dark nights, but when morning comes, God’s help will come with it.
Today, of course, God’s promises do not apply to the earthly city of Jerusalem. Instead, He is concerned with the Jerusalem above, which is His church. As we sing, the kingdoms of earth pass away one by one, but the kingdom of heaven remains. The kingdom of Christ is an everlasting kingdom that will not be destroyed.
As a result, we can be confident that God will continue to support and sustain His church through this time too. I don’t think that’s a confidence that we can place in any merely human institution. I don’t know how, but I suspect that the coronavirus is going to change our society in some significant ways. Things are going to be very different a year from now than they are now.
However, the Lord’s church is one of the things that will not change. I fear that a number of businesses will fail in the coming economic downturn, but that won’t happen to our congregation. In fact, I think that the months and years ahead will offer many opportunities for the church to grow. There are an awful lot of people out there who have been trusting in other things and now are in the process of realizing how foolish that is. We always need God, but that fact is more obvious when nothing else is working.
Finally, look at how powerfully God will exert Himself to protect His city. All of the things that the psalmist said earlier were the worst that could happen, those are the things that God will do to protect His people from their enemies. Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I don’t think that’s true. The only thing we have to fear is abandoning God. He will take care of everything else for us.
Know that He Is God
The psalm concludes by urging us to know that He is God. Consider Psalm 46:8-11. Here, we finally see what problem the psalmist is concerned about. At this point in time, God’s people are facing an enemy invasion. However, he predicts that God will defeat the invasion so thoroughly that His people’s enemies will lose even the ability to invade. His victory will proclaim His deity and glory.
Today, we need to consider the works of the Lord. Death is currently ravaging our nation, but that is only happening because God has given death permission to do so. Even the great enemy of God is ultimately doing His will. Illness makes us suffer, but it also reminds us of how powerless we are.
I think that most people in our country feel entitled to live to a ripe old age and even beyond. However, our apparent control over aging and death is only illusory. None of us can do anything to add so much as a cubit to our lifespan. The force that God unleashed in Genesis 3 is as much beyond our power to control as the earthquake or the hurricane.
From this, we must learn that God is God. He is not like us. We cannot attribute our understanding or our limitations to Him. He is vastly beyond us, vastly greater than we are.
If we are not numbered with His faithful, that thought should be terrifying. There is this devastating force out there that surely will destroy us eventually. However, if we belong to Him, it should be incredibly reassuring. His word will shake everything else, ultimately bringing this physical creation to an end, but His kingdom and His people will not be shaken. Truly, He is our stronghold, the only defender we will ever need or could ever hope to have!