The Kilogram Shift (Psalm 46)
At this moment, your body temperature is probably around 310.15. Well, okay, I’m not talking either Fahrenheit or Celsius here, but at 310.15, you should be feeling just fine.
That number is from the Kelvin scale, and it’s the equivalent of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit and 37 degrees Celsius. Kelvin is a temperature scale used in some scientific applications. It’s an important tool of measurement when temperature readings have to be precise because it’s built on a standard that doesn’t change under any circumstances. Specifically, the Kelvin scale is based on something known as the “triple point of water,” the condition that is present at the only temperature-and-pressure combination where water exists simultaneously as a gas, a liquid, and a solid. The fact that this triple point of water occurs only under one exact circumstance means that it’s an immutable property of the universe—an unchanging feature that God has built into his creation.
And frankly, the people who run the International Bureau o Weights and Measures are glad that such immutable properties exist, for it’s only because of those properties that they’re actually able to standardize weights and measures worldwide. The meter, for example, which is a measure o length, is defined as the distance traveled by light in a vacuum in a certain miniscule fraction of a second, a distance that never changes. The second, a measure of time, is defined as the time it takes for a cesium-133 atom to cycle a specific huge number of times between two quantum states, a time that never changes.
I could go on with other units of measure, but you get the point about immutable properties of the universe. All of this, however, highlights a problem with the kilogram, the basic unit of mass. For the 118 years, the kilogram has been standardized against a lump of metal stored in a vault at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures outside of Paris. The lump is not an immutable property of the universe but simply a cylinder of matter. Now physicists have noticed that over the past 100 years this lump has lost about 50 micrograms. Call it the kilogram shift. No one can really explain what’s happened other than to speculate that some of the weight loss is from stray participles that escape during cleaning.
So right now, scientists who specialize in materials are working on building a better kilogram. They are cutting, grinding, and polishing a big crystal of ultra-pure silicon 28 into a perfect sphere that will, when finished, be the new object against which to standardize the kilogram.
But we’re not in a science lab. We’re sitting in church. Yet, we know there’s absolutely nothing in this life that remains the same. Parents who were once o strong and vibrant are now feeble and frail, if they are still with us. We were so in love when we got married, and we awoke one morning to realize that the person we married isn’t who they used to be. We are all acquainted well with life’s shifts—whether it’s that last summer’s jeans no longer fit or our employer has just informed us that he’s downsizing or if we’re off to college for the very first time.
The question for which we often want an answer is this: “Is there solid, not shifting ground?” Our text answers with a resounding “Yes!”
God’s immutability is a theme that shows up repeatedly in Scripture. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son o man, that he should change his mind” (Num 23:19). “I the LORD do not change” (Mal 3:6). “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Js 1:17).
God’s immutability is something like this: Since all change is either for the better or for the worse and God is perfect, it’s not possible for God to change.
What does God’s immutability have to say to us? God, because he has been a help in the past, will be our help in the future. Psalm 46 informs us how God will be our helps in the future. God will be our help:
In Calamity, vv 1-3
The psalmists declare that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.
it is impossible to know the original setting of this psalm. There is nothing in the psalm to identify exactly what the calamity the sons of Korah were experiencing when they wrote this psalm. It is clear, however, that whatever specific calamity was upon the Israelites it was a military conflict. The psalmists refer to God as our “refuge” and fortress,” which could certainly have the idea of military fortifications. It’s obvious that’s the idea as the psalmist write: “The nations rage, the kingdom totter” (v 6) and “He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire” (v 9).
Whether we have fought in a war or not, we know that war is full of terror. It was General Dwight Eisenhower who said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” It is estimated that since the end of World War II, nearly 23 million people have died in war. The Israelites knew the terror of war quite well: “O GOD, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins. They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the heavens for food, the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth. They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them” (Ps 79:1-3).
Is it any wonder that in our text the psalmists remind their audience that God is our refuge, strength, and a very present help in time of trouble? The entire concept here is that we can flee to God in times of calamity, that God protects his people. The Hebrew term refuge is used to signify protection. In Isaiah 4:6, for example, it refers to shelter from a rainstorm: “There will be a booth for shade by day from the head, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.” The Lord is our strength, or he has great strength: “You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand” (Ps 98:13). The Hebrew phrase “very present” literally means “Making himself found exceedingly.” The idea is that God is very near to those who need his help.
It was this psalm which encouraged Martin Luther to pen the famous hymn: “A Mighty Fortress:” “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing; For still our ancient foe Doeth seek to work us woe; His craft and pow’r are great, and Armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal. And tho’ this world, with demons filled, Should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed Hist ruth to triumph through us: The prince of darkness grim—We tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, For lo, his doom is sure: One little word shall fell him!”
Nothing in life ever stays the same. It may be the foreclosure, the horrible diagnosis, a terrible accident, the loss of a job, or countless other troubles. Yet, we know, even when life changes so drastically and so terribly that God is near to offer strength and protection.
In Community, vv 1-3
Notice how the sons of Korah write of God as our refuge and strength: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” It is the idea that he is our refuge and strength as a community, collectively. It wasn’t just the sons of Korah who were experiencing the horrors of war and needing protection, but it was the people of God as a whole.
Many times in Scripture, we find a whole group suffering together. Notice what Jeremiah writes in Lamentations: “All our enemies open their mouths against us; panic and pitfall have come upon us, devastation and destruction; my eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of the daughter of my people [Jerusalem]” (Lam 3:46-48). After Jesus’s crucifixion, the disciples together were afraid of the Jews: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the wee, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them” (Jn 20:19). After the disciples were released from heaven, they came to the brethren and collectively prayed, “Now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30).
What’s the point of all this? One obvious point is that God protects his people. “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them” (Ps 34:7). “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore” (Ps 125:2). Notice in those texts the use of the plural—“people.” It’s not simply that God protects his people individually, but he protects them together as a body.
I would never be so presumptuous as to believe I have all the answers as to the way God protects his people. I am fully convinced that God uses his great power to come to our aid—If I did not believe that, I would not bother with prayer. However, I’m convinced that God created the church, in part, to hep us go through the tumultuous changes life brings. “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. . . . Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:13, 15). “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). “Always seek to do good to one another” (1 Thess 5:15).
Nothing in life ever stays the same. We all experience triumph; we all experience tragedy. It’s at those times that we desperately need one another. Fred Rogers once said, “When I was a boy, I used to think that strong meant having big muscles, great physical power; but the longer I live, the more I realize that real strength has much more to do with what is not seen. Real strength has to do with helping others.” Are we showing that real strength to one another?
In Conquest, vv 8-11
“Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
The prophets often spoke of the end of war. In writing about the Messianic age, Isaiah says, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Is 2:4).
Is it any wonder that the people of Israel so often longed for an end to war? Their experience with war wasn’t slipping on the television to watch imbedded reporters—they saw foreign troops marching through their city. They weren’t praying earnestly for a son or daughter who was on the foreign soil in combat—they were seeing their sons and daughters killed or taken into captivity before their very eyes. They didn’t listen as the President said the nation was going to war for the country’s protection—they were, more often than not, in battle on account of divine punishment for their sin.
The picture in these verses is of divine victory over the forces of evil. We know that God is going to win the victory. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col 2:15). “They [the forces of evil] will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (Rev 17:14).
No matter what calamity we experience in life, God still sits on his throne and God still wins. “Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession” (2 Cor 2:14). Nothing in life remains the same. However, we know that God is still God, and God has promised to his people victory.
A Hawaiian man writes: In Hawaii, because of the time difference with the continental U.S., the National Football League Monday night football game is played in mid-afternoon; so the local TV station delays its telecast until 6:30 in the evening. When my favorite team plays, I’m too excited to wait for television, so I’ll listen to the game on the radio, which broadcasts it live. Then, because they are my favorite team, I’ll watch the game on television, too. If I know my team has won the game, it influences how I watch it on television. If my team fumbles the ball or throws an interception, it’s not a problem. I just think, “It’s okay. In the end, we’ll win.”
Is that not precisely how we need to go through life? Is that the way you go through life?