Herald Journal Columns
April 7, 2003
Pastor's Column

God - a mighty fortress, a bulwark never failing

By Mark Winther, Walker United Methodist Church, Howard Lake

Four hundred years ago as the troops of the Ottoman Turkish empire were pounding on the gates of Vienna, the leading religious figure of the day sat at his desk in Wittenberg and wrote a hymn that was probably a better answer to the invasion than the weapons of the defenders. (Reread Luther's great hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.")

Immersed in the strife, Luther turned to one of the best loved psalms, Psalm 46. There have probably been few times in history so peaceful that this psalm would have lost its relevance.

Within memory of some amongst us there has been a world war and numerous conflicts around the world to include the battles currently being waged in the Middle East. We are as much in need of the message of this psalm as Luther was.

One line sparkles like a neon sign: "Be still and know that I am God." Think of some of the many possible variations in this simple line. Be still and know.

In the Sistine Chapel, tourists crowd in to view Michelangelo's paintings on the ceiling. The noise level gradually builds until the chapel reverberates with it.

At intervals, a speaker system broadcasts a deep, rumbling, male voice that says, simply, "Silenziol" For a time there is silence, and in the silence the painting and the atmosphere take on a more reverential tone. Be still, because only in the stillness is one likely to recognize the presence of God.

Be still and know. No one has ever been talked into belief in God. No one has been won by argument. Certain intellectual barriers may be removed, but knowledge of God comes with quietness, with prayer, with love, all of which take some stillness.

Know that I am God. The Bible has little or no concern for atheism, for having no belief. It is concerned with idolatry, with having wrong belief or attaching too much faith to the wrong object.

Idolatry today rarely means bowing to stone statues, but there are certainly those who do obeisance weekly to idols, bowing down and making sacrifices of time and energy.

The list of objects that can become idols is endless: profession, possessions, even our homes and our families. All can be placed on the throne that belongs to God alone.

Know that I am God. We come to the heart of the matter. The psalmist brings this home in a dramatic manner. He sketches the end of the world, the earth shifting on its foundations, the sea flooding the dry land.

Then he steps back and declares, "What of it. God made it. God can end it. God still rules."

God is our refuge. God is our security in the midst of the turmoil. This kind of resolution may seem "pie in the sky" to some, an abdication of responsibility. Does one simply turn things over to God and do nothing? No.

We recognize that we do have responsibility, we do what we can, but we recognize that ultimately this is God's world whatever happens to humankind. The real stage on which life's meaning is played out is not the earth but eternity.

God will outlast human history. We are not called on to make truth triumph, only to struggle for it. Ultimately God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of trouble.

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