A Personal Reflection on Psalm 46
It was January 27, 2002. I was baptized at the break of dawn at my city’s river. I had just gone through several months of conversation about Jesus and the Bible with a former teacher who is also a friend. Through this months-long conversation, I had found the river whose streams brought joy to my worn-out soul. I had found the river whose streams kept steady my anxious heart.
In Psalm 46, the psalmist opens up his song voicing out confidence in God’s constant presence and God as our true strength and shelter in times of trouble. This he says to preempt fear in our hearts as he continues to speak of an unimaginable event—a deconstruction of our world as we know it. Both the earth and the mountains embody what permanence looks like to us. Except in this psalm, the earth is removed and the mountains are carried into the heart of the sea; and with them, the waters also engulf our understanding of stability and safety. The seawaters cry, deeply unsettled, collapsing in on our world. As someone who grew up living near the waters, I know all too well the devastation they could bring when they move outside of their limits. This scenario describes the undoing of what God spoke into existence. As His voice framed all of creation into reality, so His voice melts all of it into waste.
Yet from the chaos of the seawaters comes the steady flow of a river. From the destruction that the seas can bring comes the life that the river can impart. The psalmist juxtaposing these two bodies of water evokes a sense of divine authority that can only be attributed to the hand of God. This movement from the roaring seas to a river whose streams brought joy to the city of God reminds me of my baptism. I still remember the depth of joy and peace I felt on that day as I was coming out of the water’s overwhelming power. It was chaos waters to steady river flow kind of movement inside of me. My baptism experience was a tangible moment of seeing all the troubles and pain of my life washed away and replaced with God’s firm and constant embrace that has never left me ever since.
The vision of the river in this Psalm also echoes back in my mind the river in the Garden, which was divided into four river heads that watered different regions (Genesis 2), creating life in them. In the same moment, it echoes forward to the new creation, the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city, which once again birthed life along its path (Revelation 22).
Keeping these images in mind, I see in this Psalm the church, depicted as the city of God where the river is flowing to. The church is the holy dwelling place of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; so no matter the mayhem that the nations will go through and even as kingdoms cave in, she will not be crushed. She only needs to cease striving before the Lord of Hosts and witness His might.
Weighing in on this immense gift of the river of life flowing to the church—refreshing her, infusing her with healing and life, I cannot help but wonder how she can release its benefits into the dessert and dryness of her surrounding communities, exalting God among the nations. And I cannot help but wonder what will happen if she either, knowingly or unknowingly, hinders or refuses to release this flow.
Two of the major bodies of water in Israel are the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee is Israel’s largest freshwater lake through which the Jordan River flows. It receives its waters mainly from the Jordan River and flows back out to it. Because of this continuous flow, the Sea of Galilee is teeming with life and has supported commercial fishery for over two millennia. The surrounding area is also thriving with vegetation where bananas, dates, citrus fruits, and vegetables are cultivated.
In contrast to this is the Dead Sea, a salt lake, aptly named because no life could thrive in its waters and surrounding areas—not birds, fish, or plants. Any fish that accidentally finds its way to the Dead Sea die quickly because of its toxic waters due to extreme salinity. The Jordan River is also the primary source of the Dead Sea. But unlike the Sea of Galilee, it has no outflow and simply gathers all the water that goes into it. Water, then, is released only through evaporation leaving behind salt.
There is a lesson to be learned here for the church. As she receives the streams of the river of life from God and then releases it to the communities surrounding her, she can foster life-permitting beauty, healing, and renewal to rise amongst families and other social networks. She can become a space where love and humility are a reality, creating an opportunity for people to become better at being human beings interacting with other human beings. This continuous flow of being, I believe, is God’s heart for her.
In contrast, if she keeps the streams of the river of life to herself, what I foresee is that she will inevitably foster death in her and around her. I don’t want to visualize what that would be like, but I would assume it would be something that no genuine follower of Jesus Christ would desire for His bride.
The challenge, then, is for the church to rethink her way of being, so that she may release the river of life to those around her and satisfy the thirst of the weary and the broken.