Text: Psalm 46
It has achieved a near-mythic status within our Canadian culture. The reading of this is one of the earliest memories that I have of Remembrance Day services when I was growing up. Almost one hundred years since the guns fell silent over those fields in Europe, this poem still has great power. It is still read with equal depth and conviction by those who fought and survived the Second World War.
In the words, it has this air of ironic stillness: images of poppies quietly drifting amongst white crosses, carried by the invisible caresses of the wind, or larks who still sing despite being drowned out by the thunderous roar of the guns below.
Read every year at Remembrance Day ceremonies, it is a reminder of the wars in Europe… of the horrible sacrifices made by individuals. These days it reminds us of our duty to struggle for peace in world. It reminds us of how wars have been fought for causes that become hollow and meaningless… On a broad sense, we can talk about the virtues of freedom and peace, of king and country, but to those on the ground, often they died for something far more important: for the lives of their friends.
These are dreadful lessons, paid for in blood… and sometimes we find ourselves still learning them. In the midst of this act of Remembrance, we need to ask “Where is God in the midst of all this?”
God has long been used to justify war throughout history. Let’s be honest, this awful reality makes a great case for atheism. The justifications come from Biblical images of God as a warrior. Selected verses can be used to beat the drums, and sharpen plows into swords, and pruning hooks into spears. We take bits and pieces of Scripture to justify what we want, without truly listening to what God is trying to tell us. History shows us that there is nothing more dangerous and destructive than a half-truth disguised as the real thing.
But, and this is very important, when set into the whole context, the larger picture, there is a evolution in understanding God in relation to war. The Bible changes its imagery of God from that of a warrior, to Jesus calling us to turn the other cheek. We ask, what happened? Has God changed, or have we? Maybe we’re missing the big picture…
Words from Psalm 46:
“[God] makes wars to cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted amongst the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
God is the one who brings peace. If there is anyone who brings war, it is us. We simply tack on God as an afterthought to make our fights legitimate. When we say that God is on our side, we are creating God in our own image… we violate the third commandment… We know that one… The one that says you shall not take the Lord’s name in vain. These days we’ve cheapened it by saying it applies only to swear words… but that’s not what it means. It means that we cannot justify our own actions by simply tacking on God’s name.
All God asks of us is stop for a moment and listen… “Be still, and know that I am God!”
When I served as Presbyterian Chaplain at UWO, there was an Orthodox Rabbi who read Psalm 46 directly from Hebrew translating as he went. When he got to that line, he said “Desist, and know that I am God.” Stop your fighting! Listen, even for a moment… and know that I am God… the one who brings an end to war.
We now live in an age where considering war is flirting with disaster. We point to governments and leaders, shake our heads, saying it is their fault, they got us into this. Yet, we forget our own role, and how important each of us can be. Because ministers were amongst those who supported the call to battle in the First World War, I can’t put the blame somewhere else. I realize that I was raised in a different age, but if we don’t learn the lessons of the past… What then? One of the lessons of the past century is how much responsibility we really do bear… how many of us have forgotten that Adolf Hitler was elected? The call is no different for each of us. Peace starts at home… Peace starts with an act of remembrance… a poppy, a poem… Peace starts when we are still, listening for the presence of God when we remember those who died.
Our call through this act of remembrance is to keep that testament alive and let God shape and change us towards a life of peace, rather than making God a rubber stamp for our own shallow goals. That is the torch and the promise we keep with those who have died in war, that their struggle may not be in vain… working and praying that we may never see war again. We work and pray so that we may be God’s agents of peace. We pause to remember, to be still and know that God is God.