“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
Humanity has a masochistic desire for hysteria, and journalists pounce on it. News commentators love the sensational because the world has an appetite for drama. The news feeds this voracious appetite with headlines along the lines of, “In the history of the world, we have never seen anything like…” or “—— has reached unprecedented proportions.” News outlets love to say, “See this, it is new!” The popular media love to make it look like the trouble the world is presently experiencing—most recently, the coronavirus—is one that is of an unprecedented scale.
Perspective precedes practice, and for the Christian the truth of God shapes our perspective. The Bible reminds us that world history is not new to global upheavals. “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one might say, ‘See this, it is new?’” Solomon reminds us (Eccl 1:9-10). Political disturbances from riots and warfare are not new. Natural disruptions from viruses, to illness, famine, drought, fires, and other natural phenomena are not new. Flip through your dusty high school world history textbook in case you need more evidence.
But epidemics are neither equal nor identical in their impact on humanity. There are myriads of viruses and bacteria that exist on our planet, most of which you will only read about in medical literature. A small percentage, because of their degree of impact on the human population, make their way into the history books. The fourteenth-century bubonic plague pandemic is one of them; the fifteenth-century smallpox pandemic is another. Without question, the twenty-first-century coronavirus pandemic—be it because of the number of deaths or the uniform global response of at-home-sheltering—will be added to the list.
And it won’t be the last. Until Christ returns, this world will know no global peace. The COVID-19 pandemic is but another reminder that the cursed world that we live in has an expiration date. Troubles—physical and political alike—will continue to plague society. Christians are not called to live in denial of such troubles; Christians inhabit the same planet as non-Christians and are not spared from the presence of such troubles. But in the presence of difficulty, Christians have a refuge. Psalm 46 reminds us:
- “God is our refuge and strength, a very help in trouble” (v. 1).
- “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold” (v. 7, 11).
Christian living is not about freedom from troubles, but properly responding to troubles by finding refuge and strength in God Himself during those times. Christ reminded His disciples, “In this world, you will have tribulation; but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). What matters is not who encounters this world’s troubles, but who will find help when these troubles arise. In the face of both global pandemics or political warfare, God extends a protective and provisional presence toward His people that is not extended to the rest of the world. Although trouble is present, the God who is sovereign over all the world’s plights is present and with us.
While the rest of the world faces the threatening sea (Ps 46:2-3), there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God (v.4). While the rest of the world may be experiencing physical and emotional disaster and calamity, God’s people are always recipients of His blessing. These affirmations don’t mean that God’s people won’t get hurt. Physical illnesses, injuries, and death are a part of life on this earth, for Christian and non-Christian. But for believers, God Himself is a refuge for our souls. In Him, our souls can find joy and peace to replace fear and despair in the face of difficulty and trial.
In God our souls can find refuge because His hand alone is sovereign over world history. Whether it’s a political upheaval or a viral pandemic, God remains on the throne and exerts absolute sovereignty over every ounce of disaster that strikes any part of our planet. He has full control over both the outbreak and the cessation of troubles. He’s not up in heaven thinking, “Oh no, I didn’t expect this!” He was in full control of the fourteenth-century black plague pandemic and the fifteenth-century smallpox pandemic. He is in full control of the twenty-first-century COVID-19 outbreak. And in God’s global plan, world history is a servant of redemptive history, as God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and for whom He gave His Son (Romans 8:28-32).
So while the government may have decreed all Californians to be sheltered at home, you and I can rest in the reality that we have been sheltered all along by our great God and Savior!