God Is Our Refuge
By Dr. Gordon T. Hugenberger (M.Div. '74)
Text: Psalm 46
On Tuesday morning our sense of security as a nation was unalterably shattered. Of course, this is not the first calamity that has come into your life or mine. But in most other situations our anguish is an intensely personal matter that few, if anyone else, can share: the loss of a job and the devastating humiliation that comes from bankruptcy; the verdict from the doctor that the cancer is incurable; the horrifying discovery that your wife or husband was unfaithful and what you thought was a marriage all those years was just a charade.
Perhaps never before could we honestly identify with the inspired words of this Psalm from Holy Scripture, because, as so often in the Psalms, our text speaks of a catastrophe that has overtaken the whole people of God.
"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." What is this "trouble" in which God is such a help? Our daily struggles to make ends meet, to impress the boss, or to make sure that our social life is satisfying, are all reduced to the trivial by this kind of catastrophe. So often what we struggle with is not "trouble," it is merely inconvenience. Trouble is when "the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, ... its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." Trouble is when four airliners are hijacked and deliberately made to crash, killing all onboard. Trouble is when two 110-story towers, which are the emblems of American financial security and prosperity, collapse before our eyes, killing and injuring thousands of precious human beings. Trouble is when another building, one that is the symbol of the invincible military strength of this great nation, is breached and violated and left with a gaping hole in its midst and the loss of many more lives.
Contrary to the wishful thinking of many people, the Bible does not promise Christians that they will live trouble-free lives. On the contrary, Psalm 46 assumes that trouble will come. God does not promise that he will spare us from the vicious plots of wicked men or even from hijacked planes turned into deadly missiles. What God does promise is that no matter how grievous the trouble, no matter how terrible the calamity, he will be with us to deliver us not from them, but in them. "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
God will call us, many of us, at many points in our lives, to walk through that valley of the shadow of death. His promise is not to spare us that anguish, but to be with us and to fortify us and strengthen us with his own presence so that we will not need to be afraid. "Fear not for I have redeemed you," he promises in Isaiah 43, "when you pass through the waters [and you will], I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers [it's going to happen], they will not sweep over you. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
So what can we say in a time of catastrophic need like this? On what can we rely when suddenly we have become so painfully aware of how frail and vulnerable we are?
Terrorists want to produce terror, and what they have succeeded in accomplishing is something utterly terrifying. So what can keep us from giving way to panic and terror at such a time? Only a God who is "our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble."
Our text says "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells." What river was there for Jerusalem? Well, you know there is no river in Jerusalem. All they had was the tiny little Gihon Spring, and it was not even located within the city wall. To their enemies they must have seemed like sitting ducks. Jerusalem has no river, at least not for the naked eye to see, for eyes that look only to outward circumstances.
So in what was their security to rest? You know it! It was to be in a river which is not visible, but it is no less real for those who have eyes to see?it. A river that is visible may help a city defend itself against every attack that is imaginable, but only the river that is invisible can suffice even against those attacks which are unimaginable. Here is a source of constant supply for those who know God's presence in their midst: "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. [You see] God is within her, [so] she will not fall; God will help her at break of day."
Even as Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4, "everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again," referring to the literal water in which she was relying, "but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life".
In this time of national tragedy do you have that river flowing in you? Have you tasted of its soul-refreshing waters? Have you prayed that others might know that sufficient supply in the inner man, so that their needs would be met as well? Do you know a God whose "strength is made perfect in our weakness," whose presence with us gives us an inner peace that can make us as bold as lions? It is only His presence "and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, [that] will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).
If we have that river of God's presence in our midst, then we will not give to our enemies the one victory that we must withhold from them. Booker T. Washington once said, "The one victory I will not give to my enemy is to allow him to bring me so low that I hate him back." The Word of God commands us, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-21). Yesterday the world saw the devastating power of hate to wreak destruction. Today may the world see the even greater power of love to heal, to restore, and finally, by the grace of God, to overcome evil.
Dr. Gordon Hugenberger is Ranked Adjunct Professor of Old Testament and Senior Minister of Park Street Church, Boston, Massachusetts.