By Rev. Julian Duckworth
Psalm 46 is a strong uplifting psalm about the Lord’s activities for us, and His unfailing presence with us, both in troubles and in joys. There are several spiritually important and well-known verses in this psalm. The main thrust is that the Lord is greater than any crisis that can ever come upon us. This is brought out all through the psalm, not just in terms of our faith, but also reinforced by our personal experience.
Spiritually, this psalm shows the mindset of someone who well-understands the value of turning to the Lord in every state. The psalm is completely God-centred, which is the reason for its power and impact on us. Through images from nature, full of spiritual correspondences, both the crises that come on us and the work of the Lord to keep us safe are powerfully brought out.
The opening words set the scene perfectly, that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Spiritual, a ‘refuge’ is not a place to run to, but a state to call up and use to counter confusion and fear. This always strengthens us and brings us to appreciate God’s very present help, in fact, his constant presence with us. And as a result, therefore we will not fear. Fear is an emotion injected by hell at every opportunity, because fear puts us in two minds. (Divine Providence 139)
Then come four crisis images, each beginning ‘Even though…’. These assure us that the Lord is stronger than these calamities which certainly come on us at times. Spiritually, ‘the earth being removed’ means a state where any faith and assurance we have seems to have gone.
‘The mountains carried into the midst of the sea’ means a state in us where what we have always trusted to be there has gone out of sight. ‘Waters roar and be troubled’ is clearly a state where we are feeling overwhelmed and, spiritually, attacked by doubts and fears. ‘The mountains shake with its swelling’ is a state of fearful anticipation of some final calamity to come.
These are examples of the severest disturbances in nature and they show us the seeming power of hell to disturb us almost beyond endurance, except that God is there with us in this and will hold us firmly. (Arcana Caelestia 9447)
The next verses introduce the picture of a river to show us the ever-flowing stream of divine life and Providence and good and truth coming to us from the Lord. It is an inward current and God is in its midst within us, bringing gladness, holiness, permanence and immediacy.
In the middle of turmoil, the Lord’s voice sounds and the ‘earth’ – our troubled state – melts.
(Arcana Caelestia 3424)
The next few verses give examples of the works of the Lord, what the Lord actually does, both in governing the world and ordering the human heart and mind. He makes desolations in the earth; but we need to appreciate that divine destructivity is always positive. It always takes place to re-create us surer than before. If we are not ‘destroyed’ we will remain unchanged and hold on to what should be taken from us. (Arcana Caelestia 2694.2)
This point gets fleshed out in three statements about the Lord making wars cease, breaking the bow and cutting the spear, and burning the chariot. Spiritually, all of these stand for the Lord’s power to break down what brings us into warmongering in our lower nature. Then, and surely only then, the sublime verse 10 text, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ can replace any frenzy and bring us into peace and surrender to the Lord. (Heaven and Hell 287)
This wonderful psalm ends with ‘I am with you’ and a repetition of the opening words.