A river whose waters make glad

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Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Imagine the absolute collapse of the material order — the earth gives way, the mountains fall into the sea, etc. The ‘sea’ and its mythical powers engulf God-given order. Chaos returns. This is the fundamental upheaval of the created order. In the midst of a return to primeval chaos, what would your state of mind be? What would you say to your kids as the world disappeared underneath your (and their) feet? The Psalmist here is either insane or he knows something we don’t, for he describes in the midst of such upheaval “a river whose streams make glad….” God is in her, he says. She will not fail. We may be in hell. We may be engulfed in universal collapse. We may be exiled and tortured, imprisoned and beaten for years in a Romanian prison, or gored on bulls. But it matters not what we are in. It matters what is in us. “God is in her; she will not fail.” And the Psalmist hasn’t left the collapse of the world in vv. 2-3 to write these words. He’s still in that collapse. The mountains and sea are a single foaming chaos surging and swallowing all that is. Chaos is his address. And in this chaos he is glad.

How? Where do the undisturbed waters of this river flow? Well, here they’re flowing in and through a world devoured by chaos. What is their source? Now that is a different question. “Be still,” he says, “and know that I am God.” In the quiet of silent prayer — there is the gladdening river, there is the table prepared for us in the presence of our enemies (Ps 23), there is the joy which is “unspeakable and full of glory” (1Pet 1), the peace that passes all understanding (Phil 3), the knowledge of a love that transcends knowing (Eph 3), the forthcoming incomparable glory (Rom 8.18). In a word, there is apatheia.

When every evidence of God’s presence and goodness disappears from the horizon, when the mountains are cast into the sea and its waters roar and foam as every dependable structure of our world is swallowed and digested, and when even the horizon disappears, there remain other waters (not the ‘sea’), waters whose ability to “make glad” can only be said absolutely to transcend choas. Psalm 46 is the Rom 8.31-39 of the Old Testament (“Nothing can separate us from the experience of the love of God in Christ”).

(Picture here.)

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2 comments on “A river whose waters make glad

  1. rpphaneuf says:

    Truly the River that flows from the Throne of God brings refreshing life…(Re. 22.1)

    Like

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