Peace Like a River


Read: Psalm 46

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High (Psalm 46:4, NRSV).

“We just need somebody to tell us it’s going to be all right.”

That was what a friend of mine said to me this week. It was at the end of a poignant conversation in which he asked me to pray for his wife, who had just been diagnosed with PTSD. She had thought she was having a heart attack, but it turned out to be acute anxiety. And no wonder. She is a caregiver at a residential home for people with disabilities. In the past two years she has lost one colleague and five resident friends to COVID.

Like so many people, she has had a hell of a pandemic. Misery has way too much company.

We just need somebody to tell us it’s going to be all right.

We all know what my friend means. On any given day we ricochet from disaster to disaster. If the pandemic doesn’t get us, then war, politics, and global warming will. And let’s not forget that dynamic duo: racism and sexism.

But will it be all right? That’s the question that makes our anxiety shoot through the roof. I suspect we’ve all balked when some well-meaning soul tells us that “it’s going to be all right” in situations where it clearly isn’t all right and it doesn’t show any sign of ever being all right. Loved ones die. Dreams are dashed. I, for one, want to tell them what they can do with their “it’s going to be all right.”

When I am in a “misery loves company” mood, I often turn to Psalm 46. It’s another one of those “hell in a handbasket” psalms. Everything is coming down around the psalmist’s ears. The mountains are slipping into the heart of the sea, and the sea for its part is roaring like a lion and foaming at the mouth. When we ricochet to the other end of the psalm, it’s politics that are the problem. Now it’s the kingdoms that are slipping and the nations that are roaring. Even if he’s speaking metaphorically, things clearly do not look like they are going to be “all right.”

Yet there is a refuge at the center of this psalm that calls to us across the centuries. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,” the psalm says, and that city is nothing less that “the holy habitation of the Most High.” With shades of another famous psalm, this image beckons us to walk “beside the still waters” (Ps. 23:2). Even with all hell breaking loose around us, Psalm 46 promises peace like a river. Even in the midst of disasters both natural and political, the city of God will NOT slip. “God will help it when the morning dawns” (v. 5). It’s going to be all right. Really.

We are only human. We can’t explain how or why that statement can possibly be true. But Psalm 46 gives us a glimpse of our situation from God’s perspective. That glimpse reminds us that “the LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” That glimpse makes it possible to “be still, and know that I am God.” That glimpse assures us that it’s going to be all right.

Thanks, Psalm 46. That’s just what we need to hear.

Ponder: What tangible reminder might you find of the peace at the center of this psalm? How might it help you to “be still” in the midst of rising anxiety?

Pray: Dona nobis pacem. Grant us peace.