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“Be Still, and Know That I Am God”

In the midst of the current global health crisis, we offer the following message of hope, delivered as a morning chapel address by Dr. Daniel Schierenbeck, professor at Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth! (Psalm 46:10)

Over the last few weeks, our nation—indeed, the world—has had to face many unknowns that have stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic. People are wondering about their health or about the health of their loved ones. Will they fall ill? Will they develop fatal complications? People are also rightfully worried and stressed about the economic impact generated by responses to the virus.
What will happen to my job?
How will I be able to earn money to pay rent and buy groceries?
At the more local level, faculty, staff, and students here at ILC have had to scramble to figure out how to continue the spring semester.
Will we be able to return to face-to-face classes?
How can we teach online?
How can we learn online?
When will I be able to see my classmates and friends?
As we ask these questions, we can quickly spiral downwards, getting more and more panicked, worried, and stressed. If we continue to ask ourselves these questions or look for these answers from doctors or government officials, or even from parents and friends, we will become very frustrated.
Because nobody really knows the answers to all these questions. What we are really looking for is an assurance of what our future life on earth will be like. Indeed, at the heart of many of these questions is the sense that we had a plan for our life, that this plan has been interrupted, and that we need an immediate answer for when our plan can get back on track—most preferably in the way we want it to and when we want it to. Instead of looking to humans for answers, though, we need to look to the God Who gives us the ultimate answer: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
God’s answer to us, and not just in moments of world crisis that we find ourselves in now, but His answer to us every day, is broken down very simply in this verse:
1) Be still, and
2) Know that I am God.
Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? For our sinful natures, however, both of these points are difficult to follow.
A few years ago, my new year’s resolution was to begin meditating and, being an English professor, I didn’t just download an app but bought a book, which was called Just Sit. Seems very simple doesn’t it? To begin meditating, just sit and try not to think about anything. If you have ever tried this, though, you know how difficult it is. So difficult that you need an entire book to teach you how to just sit. God’s direction for us to “be still,” to “be calm,” is just as difficult for us to follow. We want instant updates and feedback; we want to be able to refresh our newsfeed and find out the latest information; we want to be able to communicate with everybody right away. We want to do things ourselves and to take control of the situation. This is probably why self-quarantining and physical distancing—just staying home on the couch—can be such a difficult task, though at first glance it seems like the easiest thing in the world to do. This is why God has provided us a whole book, the Bible, to reveal His will and His directions showing us how to
“be still.”
In our passage for today, and indeed throughout the Bible, God provides us the answer for how to remain calm—to be still: “know that I am God.” Many of you, I’m sure, remember the beginning to Psalm 46:
“God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the mountains be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea
Though its waters roar and be troubled
Though the mountains shake with swelling.” (Psalm 46:1-3)
Eternal and unchanging
God describes some very extreme situations here but tells us directly that because He is God—because He is all-powerful—we have nothing to worry about. Also, because He is eternal and unchanging, He is “a very present help in trouble.” This psalm praises God for deliverance in battle but was also used as the basis for Martin Luther’s famous Reformation hymn, “A Mighty Fortress.” Because Luther saw that God rescued His people in the Old Testament, he could trust that God—all-powerful and never-changing—would also rescue His believers and preserve His Word in Luther’s lifetime. So, too, when we look at God’s fulfilled promises throughout the Bible, starting with his promise of a Savior to Adam and Eve, we see time and again how God takes care of His children, even though it doesn’t seem like it at that moment (think, for example, of Joseph’s life). At a time when we are forced to be physically distant from one another, how comforting is it to realize that our powerful God is still with us and will never leave us. We read in Psalms 46:11, “The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge.” Indeed, God is still our “very present help in trouble.”
Salvation happens
Finally, to follow the words “be still, and know that I am God,” we have to realize through faith that our holy and just God sent His Son to die for our sins, and that Christ’s death and resurrection assures us of eternal life. The calmness that comes from such faith derives from the relief that we don’t have to do anything to make this salvation happen. It’s already taken care of. Also, this means that our biggest problems—the inherited diseases of sin and death—have already been solved by God. That gives us the perspective to see that any problem, from the most trivial to a global pandemic, is no problem for God. The God Who conquered sin and death, the God Who loves us a father, the God Who is all-powerful and present everywhere, is the One Who is in control of our lives. Therefore we pray that Holy Spirit will lead us, through faith, to follow the words of the psalm: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Daniel Schierenbeck is a professor at Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.