[For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah; set to Alamoth. A Song.] God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).
What do we expect from God?
If we are honest with ourselves, we recognize that we have expectations regarding who God is and what He will do for us. Sure, we should recognize that we do not “deserve” anything from God; our existence and all that we have is already a gift of His which we could never deserve and which we could never repay. We also should recognize that God has gone above and beyond by giving of His Son so that we could receive the forgiveness of our sins which we could never do on our own (cf. Romans 3:20-28, 5:6-11). Nevertheless, just as children have expectations from their parents even though, by all rights, their parents do not “owe” them anything, so we, as the children of God, have expectations of God (cf. Romans 8:16-17). Those expectations say much about our understanding of who God is and who we are and what we ultimately seek in life.
The sons of Korah lived in difficult times and shared in the distress of Israel in the days of the exile. They questioned God on many occasions, but always in faith (cf. Psalm 44:1-26). Throughout Psalm 46:1-11 they demonstrate how they view God and what they can expect from Him.
God is present, and God is their refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1, 5, 7, 10-11). Since God is with them, they will not fear, even though they may experience great distress and difficulty (Psalm 46:2-3). God is present in the midst of His holy place, and it will not be disturbed (Psalm 46:4-5). The nations might rage; there might be war on the earth; but God will overcome it all and through His voice can melt the earth (Psalm 46:6-9). They could know that He, YHWH, is God, and thus they could be still, for He will be exalted among the nations and on the earth (Psalm 46:10). YHWH was with them and served as their refuge (Psalm 46:11).
For generations many have taken comfort in the message of Psalm 46:1-11, and we can certainly understand why: it eloquently expresses God’s sovereignty over the earth and His presence among His people. The message remains quite compelling in terms of our expectations of God.
Many expect God to act like a magician, to wave a mighty wand and make everything better. Others expect God to work as the ultimate 911 service: to come and save the day in times of distress. Some expect God to provide them with a comfortable existence. Still others seek after safety and look to God to preserve their present way of life.
These are not the types of expectations we see set forth in Psalm 46:1-11, and for good reason: these are not realistic expectations. They are rather self-serving, perhaps even to the detriment of others, and entirely confuses the reality of who God is and our standing before Him. He is mighty and holy; we are weak and sinful. He is the Creator; we are the creation. It is for Him to get glory for His name; it is for us to trust in and acknowledge Him.
We do well to make our expectations of God align with what He provides, for He is willing to give us something that is more powerful and valuable than our feeble expectations: His presence. YHWH of Hosts desires to be “with us” (cf. Psalm 46:7). In His presence we can obtain His strength which can allow us to overcome any difficulty in our lives (cf. Ephesians 3:14-21). We can take refuge in His presence, but we must never confuse refuge in His presence with refuge in the world. We have every reason to trust in God and have confidence in whatever we place in His hands (cf. Matthew 6:19-33). But this does not mean that we will find safety on earth: quite the contrary! The nations still rage; turbulence sweeps over the land; disaster and calamity are very real threats. We may have to suffer through them. This does not mean that God is unfaithful, for even in the midst of such trial we can entrust ourselves to Him and draw strength and comfort from His presence.
YHWH, Lord of Hosts, is the Creator, and is a mighty God, but He is not a magician, nor is He the ultimate “Get out of problems free” card. To become a follower of God in Christ does not mean that all of your problems go away and you can rest and relax in a good, long, prosperous, safe existence. If anything, to become a follower of God in Christ is to sign up for humiliation, degradation, persecution, and a host of other challenges (cf. Matthew 10:16-42). Let none be deceived: Christians will experience and suffer the same challenges as everyone else, and perhaps even more so. Christians get sick and die. Christians suffer the loss of children, spouses, parents, friends, and others. Christians get robbed and suffer violence. Christians suffer the effects of disasters, both natural and artificial. Christians are subject to the same forces of decay and corruption as the rest of the creation (cf. Romans 8:18-25).
Yet the difference is that God is with those who call upon His name and follow His Son Jesus (cf. Matthew 28:20). God is their strength and refuge. God will ultimately obtain the victory over death and these forces of corruption and decay in the resurrection and Christians will obtain glory which cannot be expressed in words (Romans 8:17-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). Therefore, Christians can find nourishment and strength in the hope of their faith (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-9).
Will God live up to our expectations? It all depends on what we expect from God. We do well to consider the Scriptures, particularly Psalm 46:1-11, and consider whether our expectations conform to His truth or not. God may not fix all of our problems the way we want them to be fixed, but He will be present with us as we go through our challenges and can strengthen us to overcome them. We may not find the safety and security we seek in the world but we can always find God to be trustworthy and a refuge in the day of distress. We may not get everything we have ever wanted, but if we maintain our trust in God in Christ, we may find that what He gives us in His presence and strength far exceeds anything for which we could ever hope. Let us find strength and sustenance in God’s presence and find our refuge in God in Christ for all eternity!
Ethan R. Longhenry