Scripture Text – Psalm 46
Death is an ever present and inevitable event in everyone’s lives. We grieve and are burdened when a loved one or a friend passes, especially suddenly or unexpectedly. We all share a sense of deep loss and the profound wish that there might have been some other way. We very seldom have answers or explanations; we are all inclined to search for ways to understand, but we have all already discovered that such a search is in vain. And still—without answers, explanations, or ways to grasp what has happened—we stand alongside each other with the hope and confidence in Jesus Christ that the last word has not been spoken. Even in the situation of what feels to so many of us like finality in the extreme, the God of life will not let it be. The God who gives life—physically and spiritually—is always ready to take a loved one who belongs to Him into His divine arms and welcome them into His heavenly home.
We understand all too well that those nearest to a departed loved one remain in a state of confusion, heavyhearted and bereaved, lonely and confused. Of course, how could it be any other way? However, what I offer is a simple reminder that the God who loves and has provided for each of us eternally, loves us even in our grief and is ready to help us bear the heavy load. This is the abiding message of the Christian faith and only basis through which we can face life’s grim realities with a sense of hopefulness intact. God loves us, He abides with us, always, and will not forsake any one of us even in extreme moments and in the days of readjustment and reorientation which are ahead of those who have suffered a loss.
Not only are the psalmist’s words beautifully rendered and reflective of profound insight, but also the very logic provides a pastoral word of comfort and inspiration. The writer begins with the full force of theological reality, a statement of religious confession and assurance which gives order and hope to his life and to the whole human family. This is the beginning point. This is the lens through which we view world events and the more immediate circumstances affecting our lives. Any other point of departure, any other frame of reference, will distort not only how we see, but also how we hope. The psalmist began with God, and so must we.
Not just any god, mind you, for there is no other, but with the one true God, the Creating, Redeeming, and Loving God. The God on whom His people may depend; and with only a little bit of experience in our uncertain and many times cruel world, we see that this is the God on whom we must depend. “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1. Therefore, we are able to come to grips with grief, anger, fear, and loneliness which result from any death or loss, by looking first to and through the God to whom Jesus pointed to all who would listen. Because of His own reliance upon God and because God was so much in Him, Jesus could say, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. . . rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:28-29.
The psalmist’s assessment of God does stir us to reach out to God because God is reaching out to us in a living presence that helps us fend off enemies from without and enemies from within. God is our refuge; in relationship with God, we may take shelter from outward attack such as a tragedy over which we have absolutely no control. Oh, there will come a time to step out of the shelter and take on the enemy, but even then God will be with us because God, too, is our strength. The psalmist’s summary of theological affirmation is that God is a present help in trouble; come what may, God’s presence is what we need to cope and keep on searching for the divine meaning in life. Again, this is where we begin, not with the trouble itself.
The trouble is real, and God never ask us to ignore it; that would be disastrous. However, in spite of trouble, the psalmist still draws our attention Godward. As an example of trouble, the psalmist recalled a personal experience—perhaps the most horrifying experience he could have imagined: an earthquake. Even in that time when he feared for his own life amid death and destruction all around, he could still affirm that God was his refuge and strength.
What a person goes through with the loss of a loved one is like a personal and emotional earthquake—with much of our joy and stability threatened and even seeming to disappear. Finding peace and courage to rebuild isn’t always easy. However, we can find some courage and encouragement that we are never up against a struggle all alone. In both the material and emotional rebuilding and healing, the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is and always will be our ever present refuge.