Bible Notes

Things the Word is teaching me.

Psalm 46:10

"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."

There is that thing people do, where they dissect individual verses out of scripture and collect them, like bugs stuck on pins and stored under glass, separate from the living truth they started out as a part of.  I think one of the most egregious examples is Psalm 46:10.  "Be still, and know that I am God."

In the dissected, bug-on-a-pin version, it looks like such a nice verse.  It's the sort of "nice" verse you can embroider on a pillow, or find on the face of a "nice" encouraging card.  There used to be a plaque hanging in my doctor's old office with this verse, accompanied by a typical sort of image of a deer drinking from a stream amid a few trees and maybe a little songbird or two -- all very peaceful and quiet.

It seems to me (and maybe I'm wrong, but this is how it seems) that no one who has ever embroidered this verse in scrolly letters on a pillow, or inscribed it on a picture of a deer drinking from a very placid stream, can have ever ACTUALLY READ THE WHOLE PSALM IT COMES FROM.

Psalm 46 is terrifying.  It's got some of the most vivid imagery I can think of in the entire book, and nearly all of it is apocalyptic.  It talks about mountains crumbling into the ocean and nations in utter turmoil and about desolation and fire.  There is no room for a deer drinking from a stream.  Any deer within 100 miles of the topics of this psalm are in severe danger of being firebombed into tiny atoms, after they are drowned by tidal waves and crushed under falling boulders.

And the verse in question?  The actual verse which inspires insipid pictures of nature scenes?  Oh dear me.  God is the most terrifying thing in the whole poem.  He's the one behind the mountains falling down, and he's the one who forces war to stop -- and please note, nothing here suggests God manages it through diplomacy.  He ends wars through sheer superior force.  He "breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire."  Earlier on the psalm says "he lifts his voice, the earth melts."

GOD MELTS THE EARTH.  Try embroidering THAT on a pillow.

There is, of course, the "still, small voice" of God which Elijah heard.  But that is not the picture of God here.  When God says BE STILL, his voice is juxtaposed against the chaos of earth crumbling and wars howling.  His voice stops all of it.  God's voice cracks over the whole world.  "Thunderous" doesn't cut it.  No adjective I can think of cuts it.  God's voice is the biggest thing, the most astonishing, awful, awe-ful thing in the poem, and he strikes me silent just reading the words.

"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."

I WILL BE EXALTED.  With or without your recognition, human people, this is determined.  Be still.  I am God.

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There is one brief, sweet interlude in this psalm which is not about chaos and terrifying destruction.  It speaks of the river which makes God's city glad and the holiness of his dwelling place.  It is a single moment of beauty in the midst of the turbulent whole.

This God is still terrifying; the God of this psalm truly scares me.  But setting aside fear, I must acknowledge that this God, this terrifying one, is FOR US.

The writer says at the outset that God is our refuge.  Always present in trouble.  And boy, is there trouble written here.  It doesn't take long before mountains are keeling over and there's war everywhere.

In the midst of all this madness, the writer can say with simple, firm confidence, we will not fear.  God is our God, and no matter what happens, we will not be afraid.

I wish I had that kind of confidence.

Actually, you know what?  I don't want that kind of confidence.  I want NO PART of that kind of confidence, because I actually hope I will never need it.  That's what I really want.  Safety.  Quietness.  I don't want the mountains to fall into the sea and I don't want tidal waves or wars or crumbling governments or chaos on every side.  I want no part of any of that, if I'm really and truly honest.

I don't even want the simple, everyday sort of chaos that I've got.  I can't imagine living through the kind of scenes written here.

The thing is, reality doesn't care what I want.  There have been numerous natural disasters around the world within easy memory.  There have been cases of man-made chaos and destruction.  There is war.  There are serious threats of conflict and terrorism all over.  I have no guarantee that I'm safe, really safe, from any of it.

I don't know what may happen.  I don't want to have to rely on the kind of confidence the psalm writer has, but that doesn't mean I won't need it.

And I need to know what sort of God I serve.  Maybe I like the still-small voice version of God better.  But if God was ONLY a tiny voice, no bigger and no more powerful or capable, what could he do?  Such a God could not "make wars cease to the ends of the earth."  He could not be my strength, my ever-present help in trouble.

He could not reassure me that I will not fall, because he is within me.

I am terrified by this picture of God, but I need him.  I need him to be exactly as he is, the God who is able to speak so very gently, but also able to stop wars with a word.  I need both, and I need to know this God is my refuge, and that it's possible to gain the kind of confidence in him that the psalm writer speaks.  I need all of that, like it or not, want it or not.  I need it.  I need him.