I have to admit: when I read this Psalm, I cannot help but wonder, is God really like this?
When I look at our world, the metaphorical seas and waves seem to roar, and “the nations” do seem rather tumultuous. Instead of this Psalm’s imagery of order and control, our world looks a lot more chaotic. There is currently the largest refugee crisis in history taking place, the earth’s climate is changing due to humanity’s dubious behavior, and it seems as though U.S. politics has finally gone completely bonkers.
Despite being a year away from holding a Master of Theological Studies, I am still not always sure what to do when my perception of reality conflicts with depictions of reality in the Bible. This seems to happen more often in the Old Testament, no doubt due in part to the greater gap of time and culture than that between now and the New Testament. However, one thing of which I am increasingly convinced is that this Psalm is inviting us to bring the trouble of our world to the text. Rather than saying our perception of reality is wrong (there are real troubles in the world), the contrast in this Psalm can exist to form us in the context of our troubles. When we bring our chaos to a Psalm like this, the words of strength and stability can form us spiritually and psychologically.
Here are a couple of examples that came to my mind when I reflected on this Psalm in light of the trouble in our world:
First, I was reminded that God can and will make things right. God will eventually silence the troubles in this world, and the whole earth will be as it should. Rather than understanding the text as some kind of contradiction to the way things are, I was reminded of how God will make things eventually. In bringing all of the evil in the world to a text that reminds us of God’s power, I was reminded of God’s plan to right those wrongs. In other words, the very contrast between what is in the world and what is in this Psalm serves as a reminder that the way the world is will change. Trouble in the world is temporary because God is at work.
Secondly, when I allow myself to be formed by this Psalm, I am not merely comforted but also reminded of our call to participate in God’s plan. Consider what this text says about the happiness and satisfaction of being in God’s holy temple. When we dwell on this concept and recognize that the New Testament teaches that followers of Jesus are God’s holy temple, this has amazing potential to form how we relate to others. The presence of God can be felt by the presence of one another. When we show up for people, fight for justice, and show unconditional love, we participate in God’s plan.
So, when we are discouraged at the way our world seems out of control, we can read this Psalm and respond by being formed in the knowledge that God is at work, as well as reminded to pursue actions which exhibit a glimpse of what the earth looks like when Jesus is Lord. In so doing, we can participate in God’s plan and make our reality reflect the beautiful imagery of this text.