Have you ever made a house of cards? It is a tedious task and you have to be very careful at every step. As you successfully get taller, it can look like a rather grand construction project. But of course it can fall down with one false move. Or if someone comes in and purposely knocks it down. And the whole thing is destroyed.
Does your life ever seem like a house of cards? Does it feel like it could fall or has already fallen down like house of cards? Or does world feel like it is falling down like a house of cards—disasters and wicked people everywhere?
Well, there is a Psalm for that. It was one of Martin Luther’s favorite Psalms and gave him hope in difficult times. It can do the same for us. Let us take a look at it as
A Psalm of Hope for When Disaster Strikes
I. God is our fortress as the world falls apart
II. God is our fortress as the wicked fight
I. God is our fortress as the world falls apart
A. The world is falling apart
In Psalm 46 we read, “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.” (v2-3)
Another hurricane has hit the Alabama coast and Florida panhandle with 100 mph winds, 30 inches of rain, and a 6-foot storm surge. There are more storms forming and they have already had to start using the letters of the Greek alphabet for names. Fires are ravaging the west coast. A pandemic is sweeping through the world. Many other disasters are happening all over the earth. So indeed the “waters roar and foam,” though the mountains aren’t falling into the heart of the sea just yet. It is still pretty scary.
What is happening to this world? Well, it all started when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s clear command. And then we hear God say, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life” (Gen 3:17). And Paul tells us, “The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it” into a “bondage to decay” (Rom 8:20,21). Natural disasters will increase and become signs that the end is coming, as Jesus says, “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven” (Lk 21:11). We can consider Covid-19 one of those pestilences. And we can conclude:
This world is falling apart.
We note that these all came into this world because of sin, directly or indirectly. Now it would be pretty hard to point to any particular sin causing most earthquakes, though some other disasters can be traced to or worsened by sinful acts of mankind. Was the larger death toll in the United States caused by mismanagement of our government or were there larger, uncontrollable forces at work? Is our worsening weather caused by overuse of fossil fuels or are the other things happening we can’t explain? I really don’t know. Plenty of accusations are flying around as people panic and are desperate for some explanation. But no one really knows. And WE don’t need to.
B. God is our fortress in this world
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear” (V1-2). That is a lofty thought, but how does it work? In what way is God a refuge and strength?
Later in this Psalm we read,
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day” (v4-5).
God takes his people and forms them into a city, his city, a holy place, where he dwells, where he provides pure streams of water. Through his Son and the shedding of his blood on the cross, he has purified us to be his holy people. He is pleased to live within us, to call us his own. And to protect us. That doesn’t mean nothing will ever happen to us on this earth. In fact, we will go through much tribulation. But nothing can separate us from him, nothing can truly harm us; even death itself becomes for us the door to heaven.
But this is hard to hold on to, hard to believe. So he provides streams of water to revive us, the message of his Gospel, the good news of all that he has done for us. It starts with how he created us, how he preserves us, how he saved us, how he made us his own. When we review that good news, we are revived, we are renewed in believing that he is projecting us in the midst of disasters and pestilences. It is what we gather in this church to hear and rejoice in. We conclude:
God provides us a refuge in this world.
Truth: God is our fortress as the world falls apart.
II. God is our fortress as the wicked fight
A. The world is full of wicked people fighting us and others
But it is not just storms and pestilences that attack us. The Psalmist tells us, “Nations are in uproar” (v6). Then he goes on to talk about “desolations…on the earth,” then “wars,” “the bow,” “the spear,” “shields,” all of these parts of fighting, killing, and savage acts. This is all the direct result of sin, of wicked people in this world. While this is pictured as things happening between nations, similar things happen on a more local level, in communities, even in families. People shooting each other in increasing numbers in certain areas. Things happening that make some people even afraid, whether wrongfully or rightfully, of the police who are supposed to protect them. Bombs, missiles, armed conflicts ending in casualties in many parts of the world. People feeling driven to demonstrating, even rioting, in a desperate attempt to find solutions.
Again, our Lord Jesus told us these things would happen in this sinful world. He said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…At that time many…will betray and hate each other” (Mat 24:6-10). Even his people will be persecuted and put to death. We conclude:
The world is full of wicked people who fight us and each other
B. God breaks and protects from the fighting
But there is hope for us who trust in our God. The Psalmist writes,
“Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire” (v8-9).
Now in an absolute sense, this hasn’t happened yet. The final fulfillment of this awaits the last day, when it for sure will happen. And defeating and punishing all the wicked people in this world, namely, those who refuse to listen to the Lord, will be devastating, will cause desolations on the earth.
But when the Lord comes to rule in a person’s heart, when that person comes to believe that he is their Lord and Savior, amazing things happen. Their stony hearts are broken, they become forgiving rather than belligerent, They put down the spear and bow; they seek reconciliation rather than war. When a person accepts that they are a sinner, that God has forgiven them, that he wants them in his family and will protect them, then they no longer feel a need to fight, they can let go and let God take care of them. The Lord does that when he comes into a person’s heart; he did that when he came into your heart. We conclude:
God breaks down the fighting in his people’s hearts.
Of course this is not a perfect change on this earth. We still retain an old self that is slow to trust and slow to let go the instinct to fight; this change grows as we grow in our faith. Then there is the fact that we still live in a sinful world, full of other people who do not believe, who feel a need to fight and defend themselves. Now God will sometimes allow the wicked to inflict wounds on his people to carry out his purposes on this earth, but he will not let anything truly harm us or separate us from him. He is our fortress.
God protects his people from the attacks of the wicked
The Psalmist goes on to write:
“He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.” (V10)
There will come a time when this change will become perfect. Our Lord will return to this earth. The wicked will be consigned to hell; this will be the desolations he brings to this earth, leaving the implements of war broken on the ground and showing that the Lord is exalted. At the same time his people, confirmed in their holiness, will be gathered to live with him in heaven, in perfect harmony and peace, with him and with each other. There will also be no more disasters of disease or flood or earthquake. Just perfect peace and tranquility.
God will deliver his people from this wicked world.
Truth: God is our fortress as the wicked fight.
God said he will protect us and deliver us. We often suffer because we do not trust him enough. But he has provided the stream of his gospel to strengthen our trust.
Be refreshed by the streams of his gospel.
Through the gospel he not only strengthens us, he changes us, leading us to fight less and trust more. We can become more peaceful and at peace.
Let his gospel put you at peace and live in peace.
God is a fortress for his people in this world that is falling apart and at war. He is almighty and wants to be with us. Let us learn to trust in his protection. “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (V11). Amen.