Psalm 46 is a beautiful expression of confidence in God in the midst of the terrible things that happen to people in the course of their lives here on earth. It certainly is true that life has many experiences of huge catastrophe both in the natural order of things and often in our own personal lives. Just this week we’ve heard of a major bridge collapse in the twin cities of Minneapolis -St.Paul, Minnesota, injuring many, and killing several. At the same time, near our own city, we also heard of the tragic death of an 18-month baby boy accidently driven over by a farm tractor operated by the child’s father. These are overwhelming experiences in which it seems that the world has collapsed. And none of us are immune to the possibility of such tragedy.
But the great thing about this Psalm is the strong confidence that the writer feels in relation to the kind of security that God himself offers despite the destruction that comes upon the earth. God is a refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. He shines above all that is happening in this world and points us to a city that He inhabits and that exists forever. Such an expression of confidence is a great encouragement because it speaks powerfully of God’s ultimate victory over all the horrible things that can happen in this world.
Perhaps it is this Psalm (and other passages that refer to God’s city) that Augustine had in mind when he wrote about the City of God. For here it is clear that there is another City that stands as a huge beacon of hope in contast to our ‘world city’ that is subject to destruction and doom. In fact, the Psalm is clear that God Himself will bring the ‘world city’ to its knees before His awesome works of judgment. Though there is a sense in which God is able to do this in any particular case of pride and arrogance, these words are also prophetic of how the world will ultimately end.
For a fuller description of the City to which this Psalm refers, we need to turn to Revelation 21 and 22. There the City is spoken of in very graphic words that leave no doubt about God’s plan for the establishment of the ultimate society. It’s hard to know to what extent the City He is building will exist in the literally physical way it is described here, but we can be absolutely certain that God will reveal something in this regard that is much more awesome than anything that has ever been imagined. It is a City that is perfect, rich in elements that we know are very precious and valuable. It will be a City connected to the work of God down through the ages among His people and in the church. God Himself will be the centre of the glory of the City and no evil of any kind will inhabit or be allowed to enter this eternal place.
Throughout all ages, God’s people have always known that such a City exists and will be brought into the reality of their own lives. To this end Abraham lived his life, looking for that City “whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). And to this end Christians today live their lives by faith, denying themselves much that this world has to offer in prospect of a better day. To this end they serve Christ and the work of His kingdom knowing that the best is yet to be. Though not by any means fully realized at this time, Christians are even now experiencing a taste of what that will be like. Even now they see signs of victory in the midst of their storms. Even now, God obviously lives among His people and He Himself is their fortress in time of destruction all around.
And the river of verse 4? That river can be none other than the one spoken of in Revelation 22:1, 2 that courses down the main street of the heavenly City from the very throne of God. For us today, that river is the very life of God mediated to us by the Holy Spirit that brings such joy to our hearts. And so both for now and the future, we need not fear “even if earthquakes come and the moutains crumble into the sea.” Instead, we worship and are silent in the contemplation of His majesty!