8 years ago when I was studying biblical Hebrew, we read Psalm 46, famous for “Be still and know that I am God” but it was verse 2-3 that I remember so vividly:
though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging
In English we have it in neatly formed little clauses, but in the Hebrew, the words are almost tumbling over each other. The mountains totter into the sea, or do they shake, or do they fall down? It’s doesn’t matter; you get the impression that the world is being un-made. The words for rage and foam sound like one another, almost onomatopoeic in how they burble up. It is as if the words are doing the falling and slipping and surging they are describing.
These words have been on my mind as I travelled with my little boys to Australia for our home assignment.
Our Callum has been stopping mid-stride, frozen in place, looking around as if the world is completely new. Unfamiliarity reigns. As he experiences his first winter, every sensation is unusual to him: the air feels different, he has to wear different clothes, his skin feels different, he has to be mindful of different ways of using his body. It’s like his whole world has slipped away. Meanwhile he does not understand this world he is left in; the chaos swirls around him.
Our Elliot described transition as ‘a catching feeling’ — like contagion, when you know you are about to get sick. It’s not just jet lag that makes him feel all wrong; he is out of sync with himself, and anticipation and anxiety make him wonder if he will ever feel right again.
In the Psalm, as the world totters and falls and shakes, you do not, because you trust in the God of Jacob who is your refuge and strength. However, this is a description, not a command. It’s a confidence that comes from knowing God’s faithfulness over time. That’s what holds you firm in all the chaos.
But those who have not yet learned that lesson will totter and fall and shake and roar and foam and slip and surge with their world as it is dismembered. Because faith is something we grow into; it becomes more fully formed as we experience more of life and know God in deeper ways. So I will not rush my little ones towards an artificial or premature trust in God as their refuge and strength.
But at the very least, I am able to say that these words about the world falling into disarray describe their experience. I read these verses to our children, because they are a gift from a God who sees them, knows them and understands the chaos of their lives. And when they grasp that, they are one step further along the way to knowing Him as their refuge and strength.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.