Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Though the earth gives way

I preached Psalm 46 at CCC this past Sunday.  It opens with this great picture of the security of God's people:
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.
Even if everything falls apart - and it is the very destruction of creation that is envisaged here, the undoing of God's good ordering of things through the division of the seas and creation of dry land - even if it all collapses, we will not fear.  Why not?  Because God is our hiding place.  God is our firm foundation.  He is a very present help in trouble.

As an aside, what a great phrase that is!  We can talk about the omnipresence of God if we want to, and certainly the Bible does sometimes talk that way, but the perspective of this Psalm on the question of God's presence is: are you in trouble?  Then God will be there to help you.  This is not a piece of philosophy; it is gospel gospel gospel, all the way down.

One of the things that the rest of the Psalm makes clear is that this uncreation is directly related to human action, human war and destruction.  It is not about 'natural disasters' so much as it is about the ruining of everything through the chaos of a humanity which has 'liberated' itself from God's wise and righteous ways.

And the response to this chaos of humanity is two-fold.  In the present, the Psalmist says, God's people remain secure no matter what.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
Notice the water!  Outside, the foaming of the terrible seas and the tidal waves which sink the mountains; inside, the quiet river bubbling gently over its stony bed and refreshing the people of God.  "Whoever believes in me," Jesus said, "out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."  The Holy Spirit with God's people is their refreshment and their security.

And then in the future, God will put an end to the destructive ways of humanity.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
When God calls the nations to be still, and know that he is God, it is because he has ended their chaos once and for all.  The security of God's people in the present is like an outpost of the future, a glimpse into the final security of all creation when God has made it impossible for the earth to fall into the sea or for human beings to rise up against him and one another.

So here's the thing: there are a variety of things that make us feel like the earth is falling into the sea.  The political turmoil in the UK makes me feel that way.  I imagine I will also feel that way (and I realise with rather less justification) when England crash out of the World Cup.  (I am just putting this here as a hypothetical example, I know it's not really going to happen.  It's coming home, right?)

The point is that pretty much all our hopes, whether they are in people, institutions, or processes, are insecure.  Our only solid hope is that in all the trouble that comes our way, and through all the turmoil that shakes the earth, God is our very present help through his Son the Lord Jesus Christ, who supplies to us the glorious sustenance and refreshment of his Holy Spirit.

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