Research credit for this post goes to my pastor, who preached a sermon on Psalm 46 this past Mother’s Day. He pulled out some nuances in the text of this Psalm that made the geeky parts of my brain happy. And I haven’t stopped thinking about what it might mean for my life. Selah.
As I said last week, Psalm 46 breaks up naturally into 3 sections, with a Selah, a time of intentional resting and reflection, at the end of each. And each section is a distinct type of encounter with God. This week we’re going to look at the first 3 verses, what I call The Challenge.
Psalm 46:1-3 (ESV)
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
I don’t know what happens for you when you read these words. But for me, even now, looking at the screen, I read over it quickly, jumping over the part about God being refuge, strength, help and right to the problems I’m facing, to the problems I have faced. To the earth shaking and sliding out from under my feet, to the mountains of certainty crumbling into the ocean of doubt. I don’t feel comforted. So one more time, let’s pause and reflect.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…
We should probably break it down even more.
God is our refuge and strength.
But, Andrea, it doesn’t feel like He is.
Believe me, I know. I’ve been there. When I hear the words “refuge” and “strength” I try to think of a place of security. Of being surrounded and protected – hidden away from whatever it is I’m facing. But oftentimes I feel exposed. Interesting fact, there are two different words used for “refuge” in this Psalm. And in this first section, the word used means “a shelter, a rock of refuge.”
“Rock of refuge” makes me think of a cave. Which does not sound like the place I want to be during an earthquake that’s tossing mountains into the ocean, to be honest. Or if I’m like the children of Israel in this story, escaping from an invading army, I don’t really see how a cave is supposed to be a place where I suddenly stop being afraid. Caves usually have an opening, right; and they’re damp and cold, and they echo. There could be bats.
But this Psalm says that when everything is falling apart – literally the world falling apart beneath us, we run to the only safe and sure place we can reach: the Rock of Refuge.
Honestly, until a few years ago, I had never really thought about God providing cover. “Protection” to me meant preventing anything unpleasant. I didn’t have the ability to understand what it might mean to run and hide in God as you would hide in a cave from a storm or an enemy. I can’t get the image out of my mind of a dark cave with only one way in, and the sense that even though you’re covered, you’re still exposed. And this idea that God covers us when we would otherwise be exposed; I think my view before had always been that He is the one that exposes what is inside us. But that’s not what happens in this verse.
God provides the cover. And in a dark time of fear and uncertainty, with pain in my heart so real and so raw that I was sure anyone who glanced at me would be able to see it, I experienced what it means to be hiding in the Rock of Refuge. When I was going through my divorce, I definitely spent some time in a cave. Running to God, saying “You promised to take care of me….” I was afraid. I didn’t know how I could ever really be okay again. I didn’t want to continue to feel that way.
Caves are supposed to be temporary shelters. We’re not meant to stay in the cave long term. A cave provides shelter from the elements, a place to regroup, to make a plan, to figure out how to get to permanent safety. I think we aren’t supposed to enjoy being in the cave.
And that’s what God did with me. He sheltered me, comforted me, reassured me that I was loved and worth loving. We regrouped – in the safety of the cave, with no one watching, He made me aware of sin in my life that could not continue. To pursue the sin was to choose to abandon my relationship with Him. There’s no other way for me to explain it. We made a plan – well, it was His plan and I agreed to trust Him. And even when I resisted and tried to do things my own way, He patiently waited for me to figure out that His way was the only path out of the cave.
Running to the cave didn’t stop the known elements of my life from sliding around under my feet. My lofty mountains of certainty were gone, almost in an instant. The miracle in my story is not that God stepped in and stopped hard things from happening. The miracle in my story is that God stepped into the middle of the hard things and provided cover so that I could be better.
I hope that this encourages you in some way. I hope that you will take some time this week to pause. reflect. over some of the challenges you’ve faced. Can you see your own cave experiences? What did God teach you during that time?