When the Ground Gives Way
From Gospel Translations
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. (Psalm 46:1–2)
The faithfulness of God often feels the sweetest when he fills a hole left by some loss.
God is ever present, but his presence suddenly can feel more real, even tangible, when trials come. Why else would the psalmist say, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”? Not just present, but very present — especially present, lovingly present, relentlessly present. When the earth beneath us begins to give way, he draws even nearer.
Everything we lose in this life is practice for losing it all at death. “For to me to live is Christ,” the suffering apostle says, “and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Trouble and loss are opportunities to press into the presence of God, to deepen our confidence in his faithfulness, to prepare ourselves for endless days without trouble and loss.
Though the Earth Gives Way
The psalmist is not naive about the hardships of life in a fallen world. He reaches for horrible, frightening imagery to describe the troubles he’s seen. He imagines earthquakes and raging seas (Psalm 46:2) — unstable, dangerous, even catastrophic. The nations raged against one another, and against the people of God. Kingdoms rose for a time, and then fell and crumbled (Psalm 46:6). Even the strongest rulers and armies seemed fragile, defenseless, fleeting — like life on earth often feels, still today.
Anyone who has lived for long in this world, which is filled and corrupted by sin, has been acquainted with trouble and sorrow — some less so far, and some more, and sadly some even more. We have watched the waters around us roar and foam, and we have felt the tremors of hardship — financial distress, health concerns, stress at work, setbacks in ministry, broken relationships, loss of loved ones.
Life on earth, even in Christ, is more turbulent and wearying than we often expected, surely more than we wanted. But the presence and persistence of suffering and sorrow does not mean we are not safe. Nor does it not mean we cannot have joy.
More Than Safe
God is a refuge and strength, but he is far more than protection and power for us. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,” the psalm says, “the holy habitation of the Most High” (Psalm 46:4). This God will not only guard you and deliver you, but he will satisfy you. Even when nations rage and kingdoms totter, when the earth shakes and storms come, even then he makes his children glad.
In fact, every kind of pain we feel in loss is its own reminder that only God can make us glad. Every good and perfect gift comes from him (James 1:17), and he gives them for us to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17), but also so that we would learn to enjoy him. In this life, we get sips of joy and whiffs of pleasure. In his presence, though, there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
In Christ, we taste that river of gladness today — real joy in a real God who really loves us. But one day, that river will break through the dam of sin and death, and flood our world — everything we see and hear and touch — with a flawless and rising happiness in him. As the apostle John writes of the time to come,
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1–2)
Do you want your wounds to be healed? Do you want love to swallow your fears? Do you want joy to bury your years of sadness? Then plant yourself along the river of the water of life (John 4:14).
But today is not yet that day. For today, the earth may give way and the seas may rage. So how do we survive all we might still suffer? “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Many today read that familiar verse as a word of peace and calm — Grab a cup of coffee, find your favorite recliner, and let God handle your problems — but God means for it to land on us with force. Like when Jesus, in Mark 4:39, “rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’” (Psalms 1–72, 194).
“Be still” is a rebuke before it is a comfort. “Be still, and know that I am God” — not you.
Be still, and know that I am God
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth! (Psalm 46:10)
God will heal, comfort, or deliver us, if we insist on trying to be our own savior, if we continue trying to navigate and solve our troubles with our own strength and wisdom. He must be God. He must be exalted. He must be our refuge, our strength, our very present help. How much of our fear and anxiety is rooted, not in our circumstances, but in our self-reliance? Stop all your restless worrying and doing, and be still. Entrust yourself — and this heartache, or crisis, or relationship — to God.
Silence with God
While the word “Be still” is more forceful than we often imagine, the stillness is still stillness. And have we ever needed stillness before God more than we do in our turbulent age of speed and distraction? Fear and anxiety usually resist stillness and quiet, and especially so today. We don’t want to be left alone to think about the troubles and sorrows in our lives — and so we grab our phones, or watch more Netflix, or turn on some music. Silence often only amplifies fear. Unless the stillness is filled with the confidence of faith.
Our God will be exalted among the nations. This earth and everything in it will pass away (2 Peter 3:10), but not before our God is exalted here. Not before his name is believed, enjoyed, and lifted up in every nation. And that God, the King of kings and the Glory of history, is with us in our earthquakes and storms. “The Lord of hosts is with us” (Psalm 46:11).
So, when the earth begins to tremble or waves come crashing in, stop and be still before God. Surrender all your desires to save or prove yourself, and instead hide yourself in the strength and love of Christ. And then dwell on all the days you’ll spend in his presence, after he has conquered all his enemies and renewed everything broken by sin, even you. Let your soul be still, and take fresh refuge, strength, and gladness from his promises to you.