Healing Psalms: Fear


  • some years ago, I was at a wedding of a close friend of mine, while Catriona was at a wedding of a close friend of hers. Inconveniently, our two close friends hadn’t co-ordinated very well, and put their weddings on the same day. The one I attended was in Sydney, whereas the one Catriona attended was in country NSW, and Catriona decided to make the 6 hour drive to it, rather than catch any kind of public transport. Anyway, I was enjoying the pre-meal drinks at the reception I was attending, when the proprietor of the establishment came into the party, and starting asking around the different groups, if they knew a person. Eventually he came to our group, and asked for me by name. He had a cordless phone in his hand, and as he handed it to me, he said, ‘It’s the police.”
  • now I don’t know what you would think if your wife was driving 6 hours on country roads and you got a call from the police, for which they obviously had gone to a lot of effort to track you down, but I had only one thought. ‘There’s been a car accident and she’s dead’. And it was incredible as time literally slowed down to a crawl, and I stood outside myself and watched everything that was happening around me, and observed everything that was happening in me, as the earth changed, and the mountains shook, and the waters roared and foamed and my world fell apart. It took I would say, about 45 minutes worth of thoughts feelings, fears, emotions, regrets and plans, which of course, only took about 2 seconds, to move the phone to my ear, and to hear the cop on the end of the phone say to me, ‘Andrew Katay? There’s been a burglary at your house.’ Never have I been so unspeakably joyful to be burgled.
  • that’s the closest I have come to a real live experience of my world crumbling around me, and it only lasted a couple of seconds, before my hyperactive imagination was given its course correction by the reassuring policeman. For the Psalmist, it was not so quick. Ps 46 is a powerful testimony of a person in crisis, or at least a person who was in crisis, whose world was rocked to its core, and who it would seem, came through it. And as he sings his song of praise, he teaches us three things about the astonishing resilience that spiritual fearlessness can give you – first, the call the fearlessness, second the basis for fearlessness and third, the stance of fearlessness.
  1. The call to fearlessness
  • so first, then, the call to fearlessness.
  • we don’t know what the actual circumstances were that broke apart the Psalmist’s world, at least, we don’t know the specifics, possibly the Assyrian attack on Jerusalem in 2 Kings 18. What we do know is general in nature, but the point is that it included the collapse of the most stable realities in the Psalmist’s world.
    • on the one hand, there was the geographical experience, v.2:

      though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

      the point here is that mountains are the single most stable item in the ancient world. Nothing was bigger, stronger, more weighty than them, and yet the earth is changing, the mountains tremble. Except that the only things worse than the mountains themselves is the mountains in the heart of the sea, the great subterranean formations that constitute the very earth itself. And so when they shake, the waters, those symbols of chaos and darkness, roar and foam, what we would call storm and tsunami. I have only been in an earth tremor once, years ago when I felt the extended aftershocks of the Newcastle earthquake, and it is the weirdest thing to find that the thing which defines stability, against which other things are measured, is actually wobbling around like jelly.

    • on the other hand, there is the political experience, v. 6:

      The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter

      from another angle, it is the superpowers of the world that define stability. The one thing you could be pretty sure of in the 8th century BC was that Assyria was crushing its enemies, exacting crippling taxes from those nations it had conquered, and slaughtering any dissent. It was ruthless, but at least it was certain, and sometimes, uncertainty is even worse than cruelty. But now, the nations are in an uproar, just as the waters roar, and the kingdoms totter, just as the mountains totter.

  • In other words, whether geographically or politically, the Psalm is evoking the most most fearsome of circumstances, when the stability that we all crave and look for in the certainties of life come crashing down. What is your experience of that? When have you gotten close to something like this? When have been the times when the things you have rested in and relied on, have come to regard as the givens in your life, turn out to be far less stable than you thought.
    • Perhaps it might be a relationship which had been the emotional foundation for you for years, and then it all came crashing to halt, bewildering, deconstructing;
    • perhaps it is a measure of financial security, a decent sized and increasing pot that you have set aside, and then through mismanagement or corruption it’s gone. Some friends of mine took some very responsible investment decisions preparing for their retirement, except that they didn’t count on a deceptive and wicked financial advisor, who unknown to them had locked them into contracts that protected him and exposed them, so that when it came crashing down, they had lost everything, including their house, and had to sell everything including their house, and rent on the other side of the city.
    • It may be your health, that way that for the first decades of your life you are basically an unstoppable self repairing beast, which nothing can hurt. Except, you have no reached an age when lots things stop you, when muscles ache and joints don’t move, and breath is much harder to come by, and you say to yourself, this isn’t the way it works, except that now it’s the way that things don’t work that is the issue.
  • because the thing about your world crumbling around you is that it is a terrifying experience. The mountains and the nations in the Psalm are there to represent the fiercest and most destabilising of all events that can come crashing into your life. And the nearly overwhelming temptation is to panic. And the question I want to invite you to reflect on is this: what is your panic pattern? What is the characteristic form that fearfulness and panic take for you? For some, it’s withdrawal, they simply huddle up into a ball of pain and stick their porcupine quills out and try to keep people at a distance; for others it not withdrawal, it’s more like manic panic. They go into overdrive, exerting the full force of their gifts, personality, resources and strength to get things sorted, and of that means stomping on some people or cracking a few heads, then so be it. For others, it’s more along the lines of diversion and anaesthetic, anything that can dull the pain and make life bearable, whatever the drug of choice is, alcohol, narcotics, pornography, romance novels, whatever it might be. And the question is, do you know what your panic pattern is?
  • because the Psalmist speaks with such compassion and wisdom and strength when he says, we will not fear!

  1. The basis for fearlessness
  • You see how the Psalm works – it’s in the face of the most fearsome things that the call to fearlessness is at its sharpest, perhaps its least believable. What does the Psalmist give us as the basis for fearlessness. It’s there in v.1 – God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. The only thing that can sustain you with poise and grace when the world is collapsing around you is the presence of God with you. Listen to how the Psalm deepens and extends this theme
    • 4: There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. God is in the midst of the city, that’s the point, he is with his people, and when God is with his people, they are safe, God will help them when the morning dawns, that is, when the attack of the assembled enemies is about to begin.
    • Or again in v. 7 and repeated in v. 11: The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. The name ‘Lord of hosts’ is God’s military title, the heavenly hosts, the armies of angels that obey the voice of God alone, are ready to give safety and security to God’s people Israel, the descendants of Jacob.
    • And the invitation in relation to the presence of God is to behold his works, to see what desolations he has brought on the earth; he is present with us, and that presence is not a passive presence, he is active and powerful, and the more you behold the works of the Lord, the Psalmist says, the more you hold them in your sight when everything else around you is clamouring for your attention, the more you keep you gaze clear and strong, to that degree you will be fearless in even the most extreme circumstances.
  • It’s important to see what is and what is not being said here. On the one hand, notice what the Psalmist is giving us as comfort in the midst of the catastrophe of the collapse of your world – the presence of God. One way to put it is this – what you have here is an answer to the who question in crisis, because there is no answer to the why question. Part of being a grown up Christian is to know what question to ask. When the mountains shake and tremble, and the waters roar and foam – or something less than that, hurt, disappointment, sadness – you can ask the why question if you like. Why is the happening to me? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why me, why now, why this? But there is no answer to the why question, at least, not a definitive and exhaustive one. You can trace the different contributions that different people make to the circumstances you are facing, including your own contributions, but that won’t really give you a satisfying answer to the why question. The truth is that the why question is beyond us, its above our pay grade, we do not have sufficient wisdom, sufficient understanding or sufficient substance of character to handle the answer to the why question. The problem with the why question is that it assumes a position for ourselves as judge, as decider of right and wrong, as knowers of good and evil – do you see the point, its only the living and true God who can legitimately ask and answer the why question, which is why we pretend gods, who want to run our lives and and make determinations, and decide whether it’s good enough, are always having a go at it. But we are unfit for that task, the question will only crush us, or we will crush others. It’s not ours to ask, because the position the question assumes is way above us. Which is why you are never promised an answer to the why question, and actually, you won’t ever get it. So the fact is that, despite it apparent obviousness, there’s no real point asking it.
  • But the who question, that’s an entirely different matter. The who question is, who is with me in this? Who is along side me right now? Who has got enough scars himself to be able to give genuine comfort as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death? Who has bene there and come through it? And it’s the who question that the Psalmist answers, actually it’s always the who question that the Scriptures are trying to get us to ask. The book of Job as a whole is, from one angle, a total rejection of every attempt to answer the why question – that’s precisely what the friends do and the Lord condemns them for it – and instead what works for Job, not to answer his why question but to change the question he asks, is the terrifying, overwhelmingly powerful and ultimately comforting presence of God. And that’s what the Psalm says here. The Lord of hosts is with us, he is our refuge and strength, not just a present, but a very present help in trouble, and the fact that he is with you makes everything different.
  • Because his works show you that there is nothing that he has not endured, and at the same time, nothing that he cannot overcome. What are the works of the Lord? Ultimately it is this, that God has proved, demonstrated, enacted on the pages of history, his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. The mountains shook, the deep waters of death roared and foamed as they claimed the Son of God, the nations were in an uproar as they thought they had put to death the prince of life, his world came crashing down on him as he cried out to the Father and had no answer, and so took to his own lips that other cry of the Psalmist, ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ He was forsaken by God, so that we will never be forsaken by God; he lost the Father, so we will always be found by the Father; the heavenly hosts turned their back on him, so that they will never turn their back on us. Bad things will happen to every one of us, at the very least, we will get old, and get sick and we will all die. And on every step of our journey, whether full of ease and comfort and joy, or full of pain and challenge and disappointment, you will never know the answer to the why question, but you can be utterly and absolutely sure of the who question – who is with you in it?? Who will bring you ultimately through everything, as he himself endured everything and triumphed in glorious resurrection – Jesus Christ the Lord, who in the power of the Spirit, brings us to the Father and the Father to us.
  • And as you come and behold the works of this, not just your Lord, but also your Saviour, the testimony of the Psalmist rings true rather than hollow, it makes sense and strengthens, rather than stands as a impossible ideal – ‘therefore, we will not fear’.
  • Which leads to the third point, the posture of fearlessness.

  1. The posture of fearlessness
  • You see this posture in v. 10: ‘be still and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’ The posture of fearlessness is that we have an inner stillness, a calmness of soul that does not take its shape from the events around us, but keeps its shape as formed by the grace and glory and power of God.
  • Being still and knowing that the Lord is God doesn’t mean passivity, it’s not sit back, relax, let go and let God. The Apostle Paul writes about his work that he toils and struggles with all the energy that God powerfully inspires within him. Being still includes long, hard work. But not desperate work, which has about it the sense that if I don’t do this, things will fall apart; and it is not demanding work, which has about it the sense that I am stake here, that this matters too much to me because I can’t bear it if I fail. No, being still and knowing that the Lord is God means a deep satisfaction and acceptance of the fact that you and I are small creatures, limited in the extreme, limited strength, limited wisdom, very limited goodness, but God is a big God, he is exalted among the nations, he is exalted in the earth, and he is with us.


  • So hear the invitation of the Psalm, to bring to mind the ways in which the earth might be shaking and the seas roaring and foaming in your experience right now, where things are falling apart, your job or career, your family relationships, that friendship which seemed so solid and yet is crumbling, your health. And as you bring that to front of mind, allow the Psalmist to speak into it, and call you to a holy fearlessness – God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change. And determine that rather than desperation or demandingness, which always lead to sin and pain, your stance will be one of stillness, a calmness of spirit and deep confidence in the Lord, knowing that he is God, he is exalted among the nations, he is exalted in the earth, and he will be exalted in your life.
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