As Christians, are we aware of the changes in our environment that challenge our raison d’être? Do we let fear and anxiety take hold of us and try to conform to the world where we live or do we let ourselves be transformed by the Spirit through the renewal of our minds? Do we hang on to the values of this world which we are so comfortable with or do we discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect, and obey it (Cf. Rom 12:2)?
The disciples were fearful when a furious storm came up as they were crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat with Jesus sleeping in the stern. (Cf. Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25 and Matthew 8:23-27) Is our faith stronger than theirs? Will we behave differently if we were on that boat?
In Matt 4:39, Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. Similarly, God tells us in Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, exalted over the earth!” Isn’t this reassuring?
God commands His people to “be still” in this verse. The imperative gives a solemn duty to those in a covenant relationship with God — Israel in the Old Testament, but today, it is given to all Christians (Cf. Galatians 3:26-29).
As the climax of Psalm 46, this verse is not so much about meditation as it is about the mediation of God’s kingdom in the heart of faith. The command to “be still” comes from the Hiphil stem of the verb ( רפה ) rapha (meaning to be weak, to let go, to release), which might better be translated as, “cause yourselves to let go” or “let yourselves become weak”.
But to what end are we to “be still,” “let go,” “surrender,” and even to “die to ourselves”? In Hebrew grammar, the emphasis of coordinate imperatives (“be still!” and “know!”) is on the second imperative. In other words, we surrender in order to know that God is in control as Ribbono Shel Olam – the Master of the Universe. We “let go” in order to objectively know the saving power of God in our lives. We give up trusting in ourselves and our own designs in order to experience the glory and power of God (Ex 14:14).
Spiritual serenity, the psalmist admits, ought to be cultivated in spite of the mountains plunging into the depths of the sea (Psalm 46:2; i.e., symbol of the difficulties we face in life). This spiritual calm, that God commands, does not come from a lack of troubles; it is derived from a steady, deep reflection on the ways God has intervened in history on behalf of his people (Cf. Romans 15:4).
The history of Israel has been quite tormented by inner crises and enemy invasions. Yet it is not a chaotic history, the mere outcome of chance, or of the power of human passions. Israel’s history has been guided by the invisible, powerful and loving hand of God.
In Psalm 46:4, the City of God is Jerusalem. The name Jerusalem in Hebrew includes “peace”: the river running through it is sort of earthly paradise, a symbol of life and fruitfulness. Above all, God dwells there in the Temple, His dwelling place. Thus Israel will never perish, though the city and Temple may be destroyed. The psalmist wrote, “The LORD of hosts is with us” (Psalm 46:7). He meant that God was protecting Jerusalem. Christians believe that God still protects His people. He is the same God that the psalmist called “the God of Jacob” and “the LORD of hosts”.
The ancient empires have faded away, but the spiritual Israel, the Church, lives on throughout the world. The People of God will keep on proclaiming the wonders of the Almighty and His great love for us to the end of time.
What refers to the Church also concerns us. Beyond the troubles of our spiritual lives, the crises of faith, the sins and discouragement, there is God with His great love and mercy. Let us not be fearful of the world, but do our utmost to exalt Him among the nations and over all the earth.
Let the angelic voices of the boy choir (Libera) assure us that God is always there to order and provide with the hymn “Be Still, My Soul” by Katharina von Schlegel: