Our Refuge and Strength in Times of Grieving
This morning, while preparing my thoughts for a funeral service that will take place at our church in a few hours, I found my heart drawn again to Psalm 46. Over the years, this has been the psalm that I have read to grieving family members more than any other. As I read it over again, my mind went back a few years to some comments about God that I wrote in Comfort Those Who Grieve.
God is our “refuge” (v. 1), which means that He is a place of shelter, a place of safety. He is the One to whom we must run, just as a young child runs from a deadly snake to its mother. His are the shoulders upon which we must learn to cry when we are overcome with grief and pain. The Bible presents many other images of the surety of God’s loving care for us in times of fear and sorrow. The following are just a few.
Moses paints a picture of strong, loving care when he writes, “The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27). The descriptive words “everlasting arms” illustrate the Creator’s strong protection and tender care on our behalf. Another image that helps us appreciate the attention God gives His children is the Scripture’s use of “wings.”
When David fled from Saul, he prayed, “Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by” (Ps. 57:1).
Moses also made use of this image in Psalm 91:4: “He will cover you with His pinions [outer edges of a bird’s wing] and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.”
Like a protective mother bird, God spreads out His wings of love to guard His children so that “No evil will befall [them]” (Ps. 91:10). However, we must receive this protection by faith, as illustrated by Jesus’ words: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matt. 23:37).
Of course, we know that God does not have arms like a man or wings like a bird. These figures of speech are employed to remind us how much our God loves, cares, and holds us up in times of trial. He covers us with His wings to protect us from the storms of life, which are usually unpredictable. Science has the technology to keep an eye on the atmosphere, through the use of weather-tracking satellites hanging in space, but we do not have that type of alarm for spiritual and emotional storms. God simply does not warn us ahead of time. He does warn of difficulty in a general way (John 16:33; 1 Peter 4:12), but not in the particulars of our individual situations. If He did, we would easily be trained to walk by sight rather than by faith. Therefore, we need to trust Him. He is in control. When fierce storms come, we must not be ashamed to run and hide in God.
In addition to being our refuge, God is our “strength.” His power is put into action for us. Knowing this, we ought to ‘Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face continually” (1 Chr. 16:11). His strength works for us in our time of weakness. In fact, according to the apostle Paul, the strength of God is made perfect. It is made whole in our daily experience, not when we are strong in ourselves, but when we are weak (2 Cor. 12:9). It is when we feel as if the rug has been pulled out from beneath us that we recognize just how weak we really are. Then the strength of God is made perfect, that is, complete. We experience the fullness of God’s strength when we are humbled by our weakness.
He is also our “very present help” in times of sorrow and fear. In other words, His omnipresence is put into action on our behalf. God is not ever-present in a distant kind of way; He is our ever-present “help.” Therefore, we share the psalmist’s confidence: “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth” (Ps. 145:18). God is not near to all, but only to those who approach Him on the basis of His truth revealed in Scripture. He is near to those who realize their need to be near Him. He is near to those who run to Him as their refuge and strength.