March 2, 2021 – Roger W. Lowther
As I travelled around the disaster area after the 2011 earthquake in Japan to give concerts in shelters, believe me there were times when the aftershocks, the mud, the smells, and everything else really got to me. I especially remember one night.
What’s that noise? Where am I?
Heavy creaking in the ceiling above my head jolted my sleep-numbed mind into consciousness, as my eyes flew open to darkness.
Nigero! Okiizo! “Everybody out! This is a big one!” someone behind me yelled.
That was all it took. I blindly fumbled for my flashlight, always kept near my head for emergencies like this, and then grabbed my jacket. The floor moved chaotically, making it hard to keep my balance. But somehow I reached the door frame, grabbed it, and pushed my way outside.
The wind hit me like a cold slap in the face. I stopped a safe distance from the door surrounded by fellow relief workers, with nothing to do but wait as the old building creaked back and forth.
My right foot was soaking wet. Ugh, I must have run through a puddle, I thought. One minute, I’m warm and happy in dream land. And the next? Well, I’m wet and cold and standing in the dark.
How much longer? Will this never end?
It was April, a full month since the earthquake struck. Aftershocks mercilessly pelted us every day. I had no idea there could be so many. In normal life (whatever that was) the strength of each one would have been an event in and of itself. But now, each one blended into the next and the next, too many to count.
The earthquakes didn’t just shake me physically but to the very core of my being. They threatened me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I couldn’t relax. I always had to keep busy. My adrenaline levels never went down, and I was anxious all the time.
What is wrong with me? I kept telling myself to 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 what was going to fall on my head. I was sick of running for the door, and I was sick of digging holes in the dirt for my toilet, with no running water to wash my hands. I found myself wanting to scream at the top of my lungs, “Stop it! No more! Enough!”
I learned something that day. I crave the impossible. I want something on earth that does not move, does not change, does not let me down . . . especially the ground beneath my feet! I want something solid to stand on and be still. Is there such a thing?
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 even 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 so many scary things in Psalm 46: earthquakes, crumbling mountains, roaring seas. And in the shaking and destruction, God’s command to “be still” seems ludicrous. Insane! When everything is being torn apart, how can we be still? Where is that emergency shelter we can run to with no fear of collapse? Where is that refuge that will never be overcome by the sea? Where are those walls that can protect us from this invisible radiation shooting through our bodies?
I started to read the psalm again.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
Then I saw the answer. The psalm does not start by telling us to be still. It starts by telling us to be with God, that God is “ever-present” (verse 1), and ever-present means God is always with us. Why had I missed this part before? God is omnipresent; 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 life to be separated from the presence of God, and this is our refuge and strength.
The Psalmist repeats the message in verse 7, and again in the very last verse.
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:11)
Three times—in the beginning, middle, and end—we are told that God is with us, that we never have to stand on our own. God can say, “Be still and know that I am God” (verse 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’s death (Matthew 27:51), and in the earthquake at Jesus’s resurrection (Matthew 28:2). God is the Lord of earthquakes.
God’s voice calls to us louder than the tsunami sirens screaming up and down the coast of Japan. And God’s ears hear the silent screaming of our hearts for it all to stop. When besieged by a world gone terribly wrong, in the shaking and terror, God invites us to a dependable fortress, an uncollapsing shelter, an impregnable refuge.
God’s presence offers so much more than comfort. It offers an end to all the shaking and 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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