One of the more curious verses in the Bible, or perhaps, better said, one of the more curious things ever written is a short verse from the forty-sixth Psalm. The most frequently cited part of that verse reads in the King James Version, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
In the Hebrew, the name for God that is used is that very old title, Elohim, the “Strong One,” the same name of God used for him in the creation narrative. Yet that name is not the curious aspect of this verse. Nor is the imperative “be still,” for if you’ve ever had one of those days—one of those long days filled with endless meetings, stress, interpersonal problems, more stress, and political squabbles, and (need I mention?) even more stress, then, when you finally have a moment to unwind—perhaps on your drive (or in my case bicycle ride) home—then you probably get the “be still” part pretty well. You get home and you’re dog-tired, you’re just glad to have survived the jungle, the stress that maybe even some of your well-intentioned colleagues had engendered by a disapproving look, a small disapproving statement under the breath at a meeting. And you’re tired. Then, yes, then, it is time to be still.
To be still and know. Yes, that is the curious part of the verse. That second imperative “know,” that is not merely curious; it is strange, even a bit incongruous. For how are you supposed “to know”? Isn’t faith precisely not knowing, but believing? But the writer of Psalm 46, one of the unnamed sons of Korah, does deemphasize the Davidic idea of faith (e.g., Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God, Ps. 20:7). Rather, this son of Korah calls upon the reader to know.
And I spent a few hours this week trying to figure out how he could say that. And in my contemplations, ruminations and musings, I think I moved a bit closer to understanding what Korah’s son may mean. For I thought of you.
Not of you, in particular, but of you in general. I thought of all those people in my life who I am comforted simply to know are there. Many of these people I know in particular, others generally. I know a police officer because I bike by his house, and I sometimes wave to him as I pass by if he happens to be going out to his patrol car, which is always parked (no doubt to the delight of his neighbors and chagrin of potential burglars) prominently in front of his house. And I am comforted simply to know that he goes to work every day to protect my community. The same can be said of the small fire station that I pass on my route, though I rarely see the firemen out and about. I suppose they are in their fire station doing whatever firefighters do inside firehouses.
I do know my physician, but sadly I normally only see him when I am not at my best. Likewise my dentist seems to see me at the low point of needing a cleaning or at the yet lower point of needing a filling. And I know and am heartened to chat with the same person in the local market’s checkout line, if I happen to see that person a few times in a row. Just knowing these people are there regularly is a small source of stability in life. And when one of them passes away from this life, it is hard to take. Recently our piano repairman, Robert, died unexpectedly. He was such a nice man; he will be missed, truly so, not simply because was an adroit tuner, but because he was a good human being.
And when we lose someone close to us is without doubt the toughest thing we can go through in this life, even tougher than our own death. This week a basketball coach, Monty Williams, had to give a eulogy for his wife Ingrid killed in a car accident. It was gracious and kind, and there can be little doubt but that a small, still voice sustained him through that ordeal. For that is precisely when we need to be still, and know: His merely being there is a deeply comforting thing about God. For those who know Him may have a hard time being speechless before him, but we must know, simply know in times like that.
And even for the person who may not know Him well—perhaps this person goes to church irregularly or perhaps even regularly, but he or she might think it presumptuous to say “I know God.” Even that person or someone like that person can find some comfort in simply knowing that God exists. That there are rules that govern the universe. That these rules are not arbitrary. That we are not simply creatures of appetite. That the values that the television may enshrine as normative are in fact valueless and spiritually abnormal.
Yet what about that person who claims to know God? Well, that may at some point be the subject of another blog, a. blog that would befit not the Lenten season but rather that of Easter. For a certain someone, whom no one ever expected to see again, once boldly proclaimed that such an intimate relationship between human and divine could and really ought to exist. Yet for now I leave that aside.
And shall I conclude without acknowledging that knowing that someone is there can have a downside, too? Nay, rather, I will concede the point that sometimes simply knowing someone is out there can be a frightening thing. I say nothing of certain world leaders who threateningly put bombs on small islands or launch practice long-range missile tests or who incarcerate missionaries, not to mention those terrorist groups who proudly render families asunder, killing parents, enslaving innocent children. We have recently seen so much of that, and obviously the continued existence of such folk is unsettling. But I believe that one of the sons of Korah, a long, long time ago, offered an antidote to what was then, as now, a world of unsettling political relations and the fears that they engender, rife with wars and rumors of wars.
That son of Korah quoted Elohim himself as saying, “Be still, and know that I am God.” That is some powerful reassurance in a world of pain and uncertainty. We simply need to be still long enough to remember that God, like a police officer or firefighter or even the person in the checkout line, is there. He is there for us when we need him, and even when we do not. In the stillness, we will find him, not in the whirlwind, not in the thunder or rattling of the earth or of some petty dictator’s (or our own leaders’) saber. And with that thought, my dear reader, I leave you now: be still, and, most curiously, know…