A Reason for Hope: In a Time of Tragedy

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781581343953
  • Publisher: Crossway Books
  • Publication date: 11/1/1901
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.08 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Max Lucado
Max Lucado

Max Lucado, Minister of Writing and Preaching for the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, is the husband of Denalyn and father of Jenna, Andrea, and Sara. He is the author of multiple bestsellers and is America’s leading inspirational author. Visit his website at www.maxlucado.com.

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By Max Lucado Kent Hughes Joni Eareckson Tada John Piper Skip Ryan Joseph M. Stowell Ray Pritchard Adrian Rogers Timothy J. Keller


Copyright © 2001 Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 1-58134-395-7

God Is Our Refuge and Strength

R. Kent Hughes

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.... The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

PSALM 46:1-3, 7, ESV

Though we all wish the recent tragedy had not happened, the terrifying images of September 11 (year one of the new millennium) are an unerasable part of our national soul. Try as we may, we will never forget it—even to the point of always knowing where we were when we heard the news. The twin towers of the World Trade Center awash in the bright morning sun—a beautiful day in Manhattan—except that the north tower was billowing black smoke because at 8:45 A.M. American Airlines Flight #11 had disappeared into its side.

How had this happened? we wondered. In a horrific instant we knew, when another jumbo jet (United Airlines Flight #175) came streaming across New York'sskyline and banked sharply into the south tower. Death billowed forth, bright orange, 1000 degrees centigrade in the blue sky. And we began to weep.

Twenty minutes later we learned that American Airlines Flight #77 had detonated into the Pentagon. And an hour later United Airlines reported that hijacked Flight #93 had gone down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The agony had just begun as we watched the towers become colossal torches billowing black smoke to heaven.

Most of us never dreamed the World Trade towers would implode. But we all watched in disbelief when in real-life slow motion the south tower roared down through its 110 floors with its great white antenna twisting down like a straw in the vortex—only to be followed by the north tower as it too descended deep into the heart of Manhattan. The vision of people running down Church Street as the cloud of concussion surged after them like a tidal wave is apocalyptic—like the tide of a nuclear winter.

It was all done with "Satanic cunning," as New York pastor Tim Keller described it—first the north tower, and then, with the whole world watching, the south tower. Hellish theater for dark hearts. The suffering is untold. Our hearts break with a mere glance at the TV.

What are we to make of September 11? Foremost, the unbearable theater of that day is a cinematic clip of the depths of the human heart.

The devil yawned And we gazed into The abyss.

There are simply no limits to human depravity. We should never be surprised as to how far into evil men and women will go—"Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known" (Romans 3:15-18, ESV here and in subsequent Scriptures).

But we must not make this observation with smug detachment, because we are Sept. 11—if we are left to ourselves apart from God. Clearly, the world is not getting better. It is more dangerous than ever before. That Tuesday's excruciating cinema ought to seal forever the mouths of those who rest their hopes on the evolution of culture. It is a fiction. We have done our best, and we cannot save ourselves. Supernatural deliverance is our only hope. What this world needs is a Savior.

Along with our need, we saw that life is fragile. The World Trade towers epitomized financial affluence and power and security. Each weekday afternoon about 2:30, chauffeured limos lined up for three blocks to pick up busy executives and drive them to their homes on the Hudson and in Connecticut. This was life at the top. But in a second all 700 employees of Cantor Fitzgerald were gone. All thirty floors of Morgan Stanley are no more. God, "You return man to dust and say, `Return, O children of man!'" (Psalm 90:3). Human life is tenuous for all.

Some may view this as judgment on the sinful Big Apple. But we must disabuse ourselves of any such thought. Jesus spoke to his contemporaries (and to us) when he referred to a recent tragedy with the question, "Or those eighteen on whom the tower fell in Siloam and killed them: do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:4, 5). The falling of the tower of Siloam in Jerusalem was a wake-up call for God's covenant people—just as the fall of the twin towers is to us. God's judgment may be slow (as some count time), but it is sure for all.

These searing revelations are hard to look at. But those who take what happened September 11 to heart—who truly face the depth of human sin, who truly contemplate their own mortality, who understand that judgment is coming to all—will find themselves in the way of grace because it will become ever clearer to them that nothing can meet their needs save a Savior. There is no hope for this world apart from a Savior.

Most notably, we must understand that God is sovereign. The Scriptures are clear that God's power (analogous to creation power) is used to direct the history of mankind. As God himself says, "I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things" (Isaiah 45:7). And so in that Tuesday's infamy we see parallel examples of disaster and prosperity.

Barbara Olson, the Solicitor General's wife, changed her flight from Monday to Tuesday so she could be with her husband on his birthday. Her new flight was American Airlines Flight #77, which ended in the Pentagon holocaust.

Jack Zimmermann, previously a member of the congregation I pastor, recently was promoted to a chief executive position with Morgan Stanley in New York, and he moved his family from Chicago to Connecticut. His schedule still required two days a week in Morgan Stanley's Chicago-area office. Jack was in Chicago when United Airlines Flight #175 passed directly through his New York office in the south tower. But I must say that if Jack Zimmermann had perished in New York, it would have been under God's directive sovereignty, for God has lovingly decreed when Jack's life will end "from all eternity ... in such a year, on such a day, at such an hour, in such a place, in such a manner" (Pascal). The Bible says that God is sovereign in space and time, but it does not pretend that he creates immunity from physical tragedy—at least, not until the end of time.

Why does God permit tragedy? On one level, Christians no more have the answer than anyone else. We have no direct access to the purposes of God in specific events. But as Christians, we do know that God's purposes will in the end be for good. As Australian archbishop Peter Jensen called his hearers to remember, in the memorial service held the next day in Sydney's St. Andrews Cathedral:

God is in charge, but his Son was crucified. If those two things are true, then somehow we can still believe that goodness will triumph, that God will be exalted, that righteousness will be vindicated. A world in which the Son of God was both crucified and resurrected is a world in which it is possible to have hope in the midst of thickest gloom and sorrow.

The Archbishop went on to point out that:

Our culture has made it a habit of setting aside the wisdom of the past, especially the Bible. But in the midst of catastrophe, when we are confronted with great realities, the Bible's words suddenly come through with immense power and wisdom. There simply is no other place to turn to bind up the brokenhearted and comfort the bereaved and give wisdom to the simple.

That Tuesday morning, when I changed my text from Genesis to Psalm 46, I had no idea that the chaplain of the United States Senate would preach it, that Sydney's archbishop and the chaplain at Wheaton College would do the same—and that my preacher-son William Carey Hughes would select it. Neither did I know that Martin Luther had based his hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" on the opening line of that Psalm. It is apparent to me that Psalm 46 is the Spirit-inspired, Spirit-directed text for his people in America and around the world at this time.

This famous Psalm was written in response to an unidentified crisis in Israel's history. The great city was under attack, evidently surrounded by her enemies. So from the ramparts of Jerusalem its indomitable words sounded in the hearts of her people. In subsequent years, it is believed, it was sung by the temple choirs as an antiphon. What is apparent is that its lyrics soar above the occasion, providing an inspired song to the assaulted.


The sight of the devastating hordes, surrounding ancient Jerusalem and threatening complete annihilation, led the Psalmist to describe his people's plight in apocalyptic terms that point to the ultimate undoing of all things—a day yet future to us—yet a day with which we, having seen the man-made mountains of Manhattan fall, will find eerie resonance.

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.

—vv. 1-3

The Psalm's staggering declaration is this: If the whole world implodes, so that towering mountains (not puny skyscrapers!) fall into the sea—though the world as we know it comes to a roaring convulsive end—we will not fear. And why do we have no fear? The answer was thrust forth first in the opening line: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (v. 1). The emphasis is on the word "God." He, nothing else, is our refuge and strength. Our security is in God alone, not in God plus anything else.

When the World Trade Center's towers descended, the souls of those who sought refuge in God ascended beyond the blue of that September day. If you don't have God, you have nothing. If you have him, you have everything. If your security rests merely on your portfolio, your home, even your lovely family—you will have zero when your end comes.

The theme of the Psalm is right there in verse 1, because when you have God you have a "refuge" (a place to run), and you have "strength" (God within to empower you), and you have an ever-present "help in trouble." This great sustaining theme is repeated twice again in the immortal words of verses 7, 11:

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.


In the Psalmist's day Jerusalem was the city of God. In it, God dwelt in the Holy of Holies. But there was no stream in Jerusalem, much less a river. So when the Psalm here describes the city as having a river, it looks beyond Jerusalem to a deeper reality:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.

—vv. 4, 5

In contrast to roaring, foaming waters of destruction, a life-giving river flows through the city of God. Like the river that flowed from Eden to water the world, so this river of God's presence gives life and peace. And its ultimate expression will come in the eternal state—"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" (Revelation 22:1, 2a). In the words of the beloved hymn, "Like a river glorious is God's perfect peace."

The presence of God with his people makes wherever they are a city of refuge. Those who are in the city of God do not fall—though the world's tallest buildings may fall on them—because the city of God is not confined to a mere locality on earth. We must understand that "morning has broken" for our fallen brothers and sisters in New York and the Pentagon—and they are by the river of God. Such is our confidence.

Furthermore, we will not fear—because, as the Psalmist proclaims,

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

—vv. 7, 11

The "hosts" (the armies of heaven) are under the direction of our ever-present Lord. Recall the orange fireball billowing from the south tower. And then remember how the Lord opened the eyes of Elisha's servant so that "he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (2 Kings 6:17)—the armies of heaven clad in fiery orange. The infernal fire of man is nothing before God's chariots of fire. The God of Jacob is a fortress indeed—an unshakable refuge in these uncertain days.


The final stanza of Psalm 46 opens with a vision of things to come. We know this because the word for "behold" is used for seeing with an inward eye, as a seer or a prophet sees:

Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the chariots with fire.

—vv. 8, 9

The world will be forcibly disarmed by God himself. The implements of war will be gathered into great broken mountains on the earth's battlefields—every H-bomb, every missile, every warplane, every tank, every machine gun, every pistol, every bullet, every saber, every bayonet—all consumed by a giant fire until nothing is left but ashes. We will do well to remember this as the excruciating memories of September 11 stab our souls.

Having declared the end of wars, God now speaks to us in the first person:

"Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"

—v. 10

The divine command to "Be still" intentionally recalls Moses' command to Israel at the Red Sea. Though the people stood wedged between the armies of Pharaoh and the sea, facing what appeared to be complete annihilation, Moses commanded them, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent" (Exodus 14:13, 14).

"Be still" also anticipates the words of the second Moses, Christ our Lord, when he commanded the storm-tossed sea, "Peace! Be still!" (Mark 4:39)—which his hearers linked with Psalm 46, "Be still, and know that I am God." And during these uncertain days, God's Word likewise comes to us, saying, "Be still, and know that I am God."

Has the excruciating video footage of CNN and Fox and NBC and ABC so troubled your soul that you can scarcely concentrate, let alone pray? Then "Be still," says the Lord, "and know that I am God." Turn off the television and be still. Lay aside your newspaper and be still. Take a deep breath—take your Bible in hand—and be still and know that God is God!

I don't know what lies ahead, nor do you. I pray that it will be peace. But if not if there is war, if the unthinkable continues to happen, if mushroom clouds rise over our cities, if anthrax rains from the skies—know this:

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

—v. 11

God gives us himself. He gave us his only Son. He could not do more than this. And a God who does this delights to be our "strength" and our eternal "fortress."

These are our words. Affirm them out loud to God:

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way, though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

—vv. 2, 3


Excerpted from A REASON FOR HOPE by Max Lucado Kent Hughes Joni Eareckson Tada John Piper Skip Ryan Joseph M. Stowell Ray Pritchard Adrian Rogers Timothy J. Keller. Copyright © 2001 by Good News Publishers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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