Serenity in Chaotic Times: Is Such a Thing Possible?
Updated: Mar 10, 2020
When the pandemic arrives, when Wall Street reels, when a tornado tears through town, when governments are toppled, where can we find peace of mind? When we wake up each morning and read the headlines, it seems as if our world is falling apart at the seams.
In times like these, some people turn to alcohol. Others turn off the news and try to jog away their fears. Some find a measure of escape with Yoga. But for those of us who look up toward heaven, we find comfort in seeing the one who sits on the throne of human history. He is not taken by surprise with the current meltdown. He knows exactly what he is about to do, and every chapter in world affairs will unfold according to his script.
Perhaps it was for this reason that 3,000 years ago, the Jewish Levitical priests sang the words of this hymn:
God is our protection and our strength.
He always helps in times of trouble.
So we will not be afraid even if the earth shakes,
or the mountains fall into the sea,
even if the oceans roar and foam,
or the mountains shake at the raging sea.
Singing these words brought hope to the priests of that day. It served to remind them that whenever their circumstances looked bleak, there was someone in heaven who was looking out for them. He had their back.
The hymn’s second stanza describes a completely different scene from the troubled world:
There is a river that brings joy to the city of God,
the holy place where God Most High lives.
God is in that city, and so it will not be shaken.
God will help her at dawn.
confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, 1881
These words echo back to the Garden of Eden, where the Tigris and Euphrates were among the rivers that watered the orchards surrounding our first ancestors. The 'river that brings joy’ is also mentioned in the last chapter of the Bible as running through the heavenly city, where sickness and death cannot enter, and where all our tears will be wiped away.
For followers of Christ, this promised life in paradise has already begun its work in our hearts. It gives us a daily assurance that God is in control of every event, from natural catastrophes to political upheavals. Whatever happens in life, he is the good shepherd who will lead us to green pastures and bring us to quiet waters. His love will follow us until we reach our home in heaven and see him face to face.
I remember a time when I thought I was about to depart this world. An aggressive cancer (called a soft-tissue sarcoma) had taken hold in my body, and after several rounds of chemotherapy it appeared to have metastasized rapidly, causing me emotionally to pack up my bags. All I could do is picture the day I breathed my last, and stood before the judge of all mankind. Although I found myself shedding tears of sorrow at the thought that my life would end so soon, my conscience assured me that the king of kings had forgiven me for all of my wrongs, and he would welcome me into his presence. The hope of heaven imbued me with a certain calm. I have often thought about the words of Jesus, when he told his friends,
"In this world you will have trouble, but be brave! I have defeated the world.”
This kind of peace and tranquility cannot be obtained through medication. It cannot be assured by a powerful military or an invincible world leader. The priestly hymn alludes to this in the final stanzas:
Nations tremble and kingdoms shake.
God shouts and the earth crumbles.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the amazing things he has done on the earth.
He stops wars everywhere on the earth.
He breaks all bows and spears
and burns up the chariots with fire.
God says, “Be still and know that I am God.
I will be praised in all the nations;
I will be praised throughout the earth.”
The Lord All-Powerful is with us. (Psalm 46, NCV)
When God says, "be still," he is telling the nations to quit their raging, and he is telling his flock of believers to quit their worrying. We all need to know that he is God, and that he will write the last chapter. The more we contemplate that, the less reason we have to be anxious in times like these.
1 - courtesy of Faye Cornish on Unsplash
2 - Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii's Big Island, courtesy of Cedric Letsch on Unsplash