God Really is a Refuge in Times of Trouble

We live in a world with no shortage of cynicism. That this often holds true for Christians just as much as anyone else means that many of us are tempted to read the following lines and mentally file them into the category of “useless greeting card platitudes”:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

If you’ve spent much time around a church, those words might sound familiar to you. They come from the opening verses of Psalm 46. But it’s worth thinking a bit about a few basic reasons why they are much more than empty sentiment:

1. God is supremely powerful.

This point is obvious enough that it’s easy to lose sight of, so the psalmist reminds us that, in speaking of God as our refuge, he is speaking of the one who can melt the earth with his voice and make wars cease (vv. 6 and 9). So while we might be helpless in the face of mountains being engulfed by the sea, God quite frankly isn’t.

In fact, the Bible frequently stresses just how powerful God is. For example, when Job 26 speaks of him hanging the earth “on nothing” and making the pillars of heaven tremble, it describes these actions as the “outskirts” and “whisper” of his power.

If you want help in times of trouble, it’s best to look to someone who is more than capable of providing it. God could not be more qualified.

2. God is with his people.

It’s one thing for God to be powerful. It’s quite another for him to actually care. By all rights, we certainly don’t deserve his love and mercy. And yet, he repeatedly assures us that he gives it to those who trust in him, however imperfectly.

Twice in Psalm 46 the psalmist notes that the God who he describes as supremely powerful is “with us” and is “our fortress.” 

Of course, as Christian believers, we have the benefit of knowing that God has demonstrated his dedication to his people even more dramatically than he had at the time when Psalm 46 was authored. If we want to know whether God really is with his people, we need to look no further than the cross. The God who is willing to give us his Son will allow quite literally nothing to separate us from his love (see Rom. 8:31-39).

3. God is no stranger to our distress and suffering.

This final point is related to the previous one. God doesn’t merely sit on the sidelines an observe our difficulties with a passing, “Oh, isn’t that too bad.” Rather, in the person of Jesus, he’s actually entered into our experience of pain and suffering. He knows it from the inside out, so to speak. That’s the why the author of Hebrews can write of Jesus this way:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:15-16)

Jesus’ sympathy for his people in their difficult experiences arises from his own experience of the same. He therefore stands ready to dispense mercy and grace in our time of need.

So no, the opening lines of Psalm 46 aren’t simply empty promises dressed up in the exaggeration of poetry. They are real assurances meant for real people in the midst of their real problems, all from the God who really is our “very present help in trouble.”

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