Coping with Life in a Broken World – Psalm 46

As our culture tremors and quakes, how can we cope with the rubble around us, not to mention the rubble within us? How can we cope with living in such a badly broken world that is filled with suffering, tears and pain?

That is the question that Psalm 46 addresses.

Listen to the message:

On March 25 of 1976, I was knocked off of a stool in my grandmother’s kitchen while we were baking cookies. Only later did we discover that it was a major tremor from the New Madrid fault that travels down the Mississippi River from St. Louis to just south of Memphis. That tremor registered 5.0 on the Richter scale. In 1811 and 1812, the New Madrid fault experienced three major quakes, each in the mid 7s on the scale. One of the quakes was so powerful that it was felt on the east coast and caused the Mississippi River to temporarily flow backwards. By 1812, the future course of the river had been significantly altered due to the shifting of the earth.

Over the course of the past several weeks, and especially in light of the events of just the past 3 or 4 days, some of us feel like we are experiencing tremors. Not geological, but cultural tremors that have knocked us off of the stool. Everything feels unstable and uncertain. The massacre in Orlando. The rising death toll in Chicago’s summer of violence. The recent bombings in Turkey, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. And of course, the most acute images on video from week’s killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile followed by the assassination in Dallas of five police officers – these tragic events have our nation on edge.

As I look into my own heart and read your posts on social media, I find that emotions are raw. There is profound sadness. Grief. Anger. A sense of helplessness and fear and even numbness and nausea. My wife, Kristy, has really helped me connect to these emotions. I tend to be more of an intellectual processor more than I am an emotional processor, unless the events are really, really close to home. Then, I tend to be much more emotional. So, as I followed this week’s tragic events, I began processing them on an intellectual level – a bit detached from the real-life pain. In our conversations, Kristy picked up on that and, in the most loving way possible, challenged me by helping me see that these people who died are not just part of a black community, or a police community; they are part of the human community. These men whose lives have been taken have wives and children and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters who are grieving and broken. As I began to personalize and humanize these events, I began to realize the importance of listening – listening to the mothers, the brothers, the children. Listening to the tears. And I began, if only faintly, seeing life from their perspective, which has enabled me to weep with those who weep.

As our culture tremors and quakes, how can we cope with the rubble around us, not to mention the rubble within us? How can we cope with living in such a badly broken world that is filled with suffering, tears and pain?

That is the question that Psalm 46 addresses. Although we are not certain as to the historical events that precipitated the writing of this Psalm, we know that it was written by Hebrew musicians who wanted to help Israel deal with issues of national concern such as we face in our day. Their question is ours: what do believers do when the world begins to collapse, whether morally, economically, politically, or even personally?  Ps. 46 helps us face this very personal question.

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.

1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. 

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.  5God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.  6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.  7 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. 

8 Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth.  9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.  10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  11 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

There are at least 5 things that we can learn from Psalm 46 that will help us cope with life in such a badly broken world.

I. There will be trouble.

If only a new car could remain a new car. But we know that at some point something is going to perform according to its original design.

This world is the same way. God designed a perfect environment in which humanity could live and thrive. But due to the entrance of sin into the world through Adam and Eve’s garden rebellion, the world is now badly broken.

This does not mean that we should become cynical pessimists or that we must bury our heads in the sand as blind optimists. The rubble calls us to biblical realists. In this age, due to human depravity, there will be violence. Sickness. Racism. Political corruption. There will be wars. There will be trouble.

II. The trouble we experience will surface deep emotions.

Christian Psychologist Dr. Dan Allender says that our emotions are windows into the soul that reveal how our internal world is dealing with the external world. When the external world presents us with senseless death and injustice, deep emotions will surface. They are supposed to. We are emotional creatures. Feeling is one way to know that you are emotionally alive. Emotions are also like nerve endings of the soul. We touch a hot stove and feel pain. We watch a man die from a gunshot would after being told to produce his auto registration and deep emotions are going surface – they should. When the lives of men with wives and children who are keeping peace are killed by a hate-filled sniper, deep emotions are going to surface. As members of the human community, we can’t help but experience the numbness of disbelief, righteous indignation, nauseating grief

But we know that emotions, as healthy as they are to embrace and to express – emotions alone were never designed to rule us or guide us. That is the role of truth.

III. Our emotions were designed to lead us to God.

One of the primary purposes of the Psalms is to show us how to approach God for grace as our the “refuge and strength” in our weakness and our “ever present” help in trouble. The phrase “cry out” is used multiple times in the Bible to express how emotions are to lead us to God. Just like a child who scrapes his knee on the pavement runs to his mother, so we are to run to our Father. We cry out. We don’t merely speak. We cry.

Emotion in the Psalms is real and raw and shockingly honest. Sometimes I read the Psalms and wince, “I’m not sure I would have said that to God.” But that reveals that I know little of the relational depth that the Psalmists knew.

They must have been convinced that they had been saved by grace alone and could be real with God, without the fear of condemnation. The emotions of the Psalms show us what it is like to experience true intimacy with God. After all, our emotions were designed to lead us to God as our refuge and strength, our ever-present help in trouble.

IV. We need to train our minds to think theologically.

That is the implication of the Lord commanding us to “Be still [imperative] and know that I am God.” The original Hebrew word know is so important, implying not only an intellectual knowledge of God, but an intimate, personal, relational knowledge of God, where we do not just know about him, but somehow, existentially we really know him. In fact, the word “know” in this verse is the same word used in Genesis where it says that “Adam knew his wife and she conceived.”

You see, as we know him, we realize that God is God… and I am not. It’s not my job to be sovereign over all events at all times and in all places. It is not my job to orchestrate the intricacies of human history, guiding them to a pre-ordained conclusion. I can’t even be sovereign over my own life, or the life of my kids, or sadly, even my dogs! I cannot carry or fix the ruined rubble of this world. I need to know this.

So, thinking theologically means that we are able to process brokenness through a biblical lens. It means that we recognize the four acts of history, which gives context to God’s story in this world.

  • Acts 1 is creation. God made everything and it was good.
  • Act 2 is devastation. Through sin entering the world, there was the devastation of the fall, so that now, humans are sinful and everything is broken. The good world is a ruined world.
  • Act 3 is redemption, whereby through the cross of Jesus, the promise of restoration is given to those affected by the fall. Now, we live in a created world that has been devastated by the fall. But in the midst of the devestation is the hope of redemption, and the final act.
  • Acts 4 is consummation, when Jesus will usher in the new heavens and the new earth for those who through repentance and faith receive the promise of redemption, where there will be, according to Revelation 21:4, “no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things” will pass away. No more earthquakes. No more shootings. No more terror. No more racism. No more wars. No more injustice. No more child abuse. No more addiction. No more lonliness. No more fear. No more. No more.

Knowing this is what enables us to endure now, with the hope of then, and to work now for as much peace and justice as possible now, with the realistic understanding that until then, there will be trouble. This trouble will surface deep emotions which are intended to lead us to God so that we might know him and train our minds to think theologically.

But notice that the way we know these things and the way we train our minds is by being still and quiet in the presence of God. This is a challenge for me, and I suppose it is for most of us.  And the challenge is intensified when we realize that the stillness commanded is not just physical stillness, but emotional and mental stillness.  Obviously, emotional and mental stillness typically assumes physical stillness, which is best experienced early in the morning or late at night, but can be practiced anytime you are able to break away in order to be still and re-center your mind and heart of what we know is true of God’s nature and what is true about his purpose on earth, which is to save his people from their sins, gather them as the church, and from the church extend his global mission of grace to the nations as Jesus is exalted among the nations as the King of Grace and Prince of Peace.

V. The Gospel is the Hope of the World

There is a scene in the play The Long Silence where all people are on a great plain at the end of human history and are angry with God for allowing such suffering, injustice and cruelty to exist in the world. A number of representatives come forward who have been the victims of this injustice and cruelty, demanding that God himself come down to experience sorrow and grief himself. They formulate their demand, saying, “Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Get having worked so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind. Let him be betrayed his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted buy a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured. Then let him die a miserable, painful, lonely death.”  As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled. But when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly, all knew that God had already served the sentence.”

Isaiah 53 predicted that the Messiah would be “a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,” who would become the object of the greatest imaginable injustice and cruelty. But somehow, the Lord would turn that injustice and cruelty into the greatest good imaginable.

Psalm 46:8-9 says, “8 Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth.  9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.”

Today, we can look to the cross and say the same thing.  “Come and see what the LORD has done! Through the desolation of Jesus, the enemy of our sin and condemnation has been destroyed. He has broken the bow of the law and shattered the spear of condemnation. Our sin has been consumed upon the cross as a shield in the fire, its power utterly broken.”

This is why the gospel is the hope of this broken world and the broken people like you and me who live in it. We can’t break the bow or shatter the spear. But Jesus did, by allowing the bow and speak to pierce him in our place. As Isaiah says, “5 He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

When someone experiences this healing, they experience grace. And when someone experiences grace, change is possible… because grace is the power that ends wars, restores marriages and brings wayward children home. Grace is the power that melts racism and brings peace to a nation. Grace is the power that enables us to endure living in the rubble of a broken world as messengers of hope, helping broken people just like us find their refuge in the One who is our ever-present help – our Savior and our King, Jesus.