God, a Very Present Help in Trouble

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Devotional Word for Thursday, March 19, 2020

This morning my wife and I read Psalm 46 as part of our devotions. Our hearts and minds resonated with the first two verses. They read like this:

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea.

All the turmoil created by the Coronavirus certainly has changed our sense of what is going on in the earth and what it means to live. While these are unprecedented times for most of us, what we are going through is not unprecedented across the span of history. The Psalmist experienced such times and set a purpose for his heart: namely, not to fear. Why? Because God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. We pray that our minds may be so ordered, and our faith so well lived out. 

Martin Luther lived during several outbreaks of the plague. Some Christian people wrote to him asking if it was OK to flee from the plague. Here is a small portion of his response:

You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely.” See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.

[Luther’s Works, v. 43. p. 132]

Perhaps you’ve heard this passage quoted by others in the past week or so. I have. From nearby, from various places across the country, and even from someone in France. But that is only a part of how Luther encouraged people to think when there was a plague. In that same letter he gave some advice on “how one should care and provide for the soul.” He said, “First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s word how to live and how to die.” [Luther’s Works, v. 43. p. 134] 

The point we need to hear is this: the Bible teaches Christians how to live and how to die. It is very easy for us to think we know how to live, and so we live as we want. We are the owners and managers of our lives. Living in a situation similar to our own, Luther says we should “. . . reverently meditate upon death, the Last Judgment, the resurrection, and say [our] prayers.” [Luther’s Works, v. 43, p. 136-7] Perhaps that’s why all of what is going on with the Coronavirus is so upsetting to many. It is forcing people to think about that which they seek to deny: namely, that humans are mortal. All humans shall die. And when we do die, then what? 

The Bible does address this. In Romans 14:7-8 we are taught: For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. Hallelujah! What a great truth to know and hold onto. We are the Lord’s. If Christ has redeemed us, we are His. That is a truth we need to meditate on regularly. If we do, it will help instruct us how to live and how to die. 

That is the truth that lies behind Psalm 46. The Psalm ends with God speaking, and then an affirmation from the Psalmist regarding the attitude of the people of God.

[God says]“Be still and know that I am God; 
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
[The Psalmist responds] The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Let’s pray: O Lord God, You are the Almighty One. These days in which we live are filled with roaring, and it seems as if everything around us is ready to fall into the sea. We confess we are overwhelmed by all this. It is more than we can handle or understand. But it makes us aware of our own mortality. It makes us aware that someone else is Lord. You are the Lord. Help me, today and each day, to be still and know that You are God. You will be exalted. Thank You that whether I live or die, I am Yours! Let me live and die in the blessedness of this knowledge. It comforts my soul. I pray in the name of Jesus, the One who is my Savior, the One who is the Lord of all. Amen.