April 13, 2020 - Roger W. Lowther
Heavy creaking in the ceiling above my head jolted my sleep-numbed mind into consciousness. My eyes flew open to darkness.
What is that noise? Where am I?
“Everybody out! This is a big one!” someone behind me yelled.
That was all it took. I blindly fumbled for my flashlight, always near my head for emergencies like this, and then I grabbed my jacket. The floor beneath me moved chaotically, making it hard to keep my balance. Somehow I reached the door frame, grabbed it, and pushed my way outside.
The wind was bitingly cold. The old building swayed back and forth with loud creaking noises. I stood there, surrounded by fellow relief workers, with nothing to do but wait. My right foot was soaking wet.
Ugh, I must have run through a puddle, I thought. One minute, I’m warm in happy dream land. The next, I’m wet and cold and standing in the dark.
How much longer? Will this never end?
It was now April, a full month since the Great East Japan Earthquake. Day after day, we had been pelted with the merciless onslaught of aftershocks. I had no idea there could be so many. In normal life (whatever that was . . . had there ever been such a thing?) each aftershock would have been an event in and of itself. But now, each one blended into the next and the next, too many to count. Still, none compared to the “big” one.
I learned something that day. I learned that earthquakes don’t just shake you physically, but the very core of your being as well. They threaten you both mentally and emotionally and spiritually.
I could not relax. I always had to keep busy. My adrenaline levels never seemed to go down. I seemed to be anxious all the time.
What is wrong with me? I kept telling myself. Just stop it! Calm down!
I was a mess . . . and I was sick of it. I was sick of people yelling, “Earthquake!” and “Take shelter!” and “Get away from the windows!” I was sick of worrying that something was going to fall on my head. I was sick of running for the door. I was sick of digging holes in the dirt for my toilet, and no running water to wash my hands. I found myself wanting to scream at the top of my lungs, “Stop! No more! Enough!”
I learned something else that day. We humans crave the impossible. There is nothing on earth that does not move, does not change, does not let us down. Even the ground beneath our feet . . . especially the ground beneath our feet! We want something solid to stand on and be still on. But we long for it in vain.
Then the words came to me.
"Be still and know that I am God."
I’ve heard these words a million times, but now I didn't know what they meant.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging . . .
"Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:1-3, 10)
There are a lot of scary things in this psalm: earthquakes, crumbling mountains, roaring seas. And in the shaking and destruction, God’s command to “be still” seems ludicrous. Insanity! When everything is being torn apart, how can anyone be still? Where is that emergency shelter we can run to with no fear of collapse? Where is that refuge that will never be inundated by the sea? Where are those walls that can protect us from invisible radiation shooting through our bodies?
I started reading the psalm again.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
Then I noticed it. The Psalm does not start by telling us to be still. It starts by telling us that God is “ever-present” (v. 1). Ever-present means that God is always with us. Why had I missed that part before? God is omnipresent, which means that he is with us wherever we are. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). There is no way in this life that we can be separated from the presence of God. And this is our refuge and strength.
The Psalmist repeats the message in verse 7, and then again in the very last verse.
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:11)
God is Immanuel, “God with us.” We never stand on our own, but on the very foundation of the fortress of God. God says, “Be still and know that I am God” (v. 10), because he is always there present with us. He is there when the earth “give[s] way,” and the mountains “fall into the heart of the sea,” and the monstrous tsunamis “roar and foam.” God was present in the earthquake at Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:51), and he was present in the earthquake at Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:2).
God’s voice calls to us louder than tsunami sirens screaming up and down the coast of Japan. And God’s ears hear the silent screams of our hearts for it all to stop. When besieged by a world gone terribly wrong, in the shaking and in the terror, God invites us to a dependable fortress, an uncollapsing shelter, and an impregnable refuge.
God’s presence offers so much more than comfort. It offers an end to all the shaking and the fear. It offers the space where we can finally stop and rest in these words.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
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