A Meditation on Psalm 46 During the Coronavirus Crisis

– By Jonathan Kopke

A couple blocks from our home, one family has graced their porch with a new banner that says simply, “Be Still.”  That’s good advice for all of us in the neighborhood during our coronavirus stay-at-home orders.  But for those of us who’ve grown up with the Scriptures, that expression is also a prompt for us to complete the sentence with the words, “…and know that I am God.”  And beyond that, for most of us in the Church, the words on that banner bring to mind a sweet little song that we’ve whispered together so many times over the years: “Be still and know that I am God.”  But whispering isn’t at all how those words come across in the Bible.  Psalm 46 begins with the proclamation,
     God is our refuge and strength,
     an ever-present help in trouble. 
     Therefore we will not fear,
     though the earth give way
     and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
     though its waters roar and foam
     and the mountains quake with their surging.
[1] 

The creation story in Genesis describes the waters of the earth being separated from the dry land, but in this psalm, the dry land is collapsing back into the waters.  It’s a picture of nature itself plunging into chaos.  And over the roar of the waters and the quaking of the mountains, the voice of God thunders out:
     Be still, and know that I am God;
     I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.[2]

It’s awfully hard, though, to see how God could be exalted — lifted up — in a global pandemic.  And we certainly don’t want to make trivial excuses for Almighty God.  But there’s at least one way we can all eventually come out of this pandemic saying, “[the coronavirus] planned evil against me, but God used those same plans for my good.”[3]  I happen to own an old hymnbook where the Thanksgiving Day litany includes the improbable line,
     We thank you, Father, for all the discipline of life,
     by which we are trained in patience, and in self-knowledge, and in compassion for others.

During this pandemic, for those of us who have a radical trust in God, the discipline of our prolonged stay-at-home order is giving us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be still and know that God is always God. 

  • When we experience how helpless we are to escape from this interminable calamity, we’re being trained in patience. 
  • When we’re forced to honestly face our own mortality, we’re being trained in self-knowledge.
  • And as the daily news is confronting us with thousands of stories more heartrending than our own, we’re being trained in compassion for others. 

None of us was born with the emotional or spiritual resources to endure all of this, but we can be confident that these lessons will work for us and not against us because “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

God hasn’t promised to keep us out of the fiery furnace, but he has promised to go through the fiery furnace with us.[4]  “Therefore, we will not fear.”  And when we eventually come out on the other side, and we find that all this discipline of life has left us better equipped than ever before to put God on display, then God will indeed be exalted among the nations.  He will indeed be lifted up in the earth.

SOME QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:

  1. Jon’s reflection on Psalm 46 suggests that “Be still and know” is not simply an invitation to quietness, but a command to silence. In what way do you think God may be “commanding silence” in this present storm? 
  2. In what way may God be telling you to be still?
  3. In the “discipline of our prolonged stay-at-home order,” what is God teaching you?
  4. Take a few minutes to read through Psalm 46 again. Then pray Psalm 46, something like this:  “God you are our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though …;  though …;  though ….

———————————————————
[1] Psalm 46:1-3 niv
[2] Psalm 46:10 niv
[3] Genesis 50:20 msg
[4] Daniel 3:24-25

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