29 November 2022

Active peacemaking: Stop! Be still!

Major Malcolm Martin

In the first of five Advent reflections, Major Malcolm Martin considers the arrival of the Prince of Peace in a world marked by uncertainty and conflict.

‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10).

At the beginning of Advent, Psalm 46 brings a much-needed reminder that God-with-us – Immanuel – provides a secure and lasting foundation for peace, against the background of uncertain and distressing circumstances.

A popular legend asserts that in the early 17th century the translators of the King James Version wanted to render the psalms in suitably poetic English. They therefore turned to some of the leading English-language wordsmiths of the day, including William Shakespeare.

The story proposes that Shakespeare reached Psalm 46 on his 46th birthday and decided to leave his legacy in the text. Apparently unnoticed by the translation committee, he used ‘shake’ 46 words from the beginning of the psalm and ‘spear’ 46 words from the end. The notion that translators, largely drawn from Puritan ranks, would turn to a figure associated with the dubious pleasures of the theatre is somewhat fanciful, and the particular words in question were present in earlier translations of the Bible.

There is greater certainty about the link between this psalm and Martin Luther’s expression of faith in his hymn ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’ (SASB 1). At a time when he faced opposition and the threat of execution, he was able to assert his full confidence in God, declaring: ‘On Earth is not his equal.’

Psalm 46:1

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Read the passage

Confidence amid chaos

Psalm 46 is a song of confidence. Drawing upon common Old Testament concepts of God as ‘refuge and strength’ (v1), it asserts that comfort can be drawn from God’s enduring presence and expresses certain hope that God is ultimately in control. Even if all creation were to collapse into chaos, even if nations foolishly fulminate, the psalmist proclaims that God remains a constant source of assurance.

The enduring impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, devastating conflicts, natural disasters, political turmoil and economic insecurity can all bring uncertainty into our daily lives. Aspects of chaos are inevitable in a disordered world, but a deep awareness that ‘the Lord Almighty is with us’ (v7) can help us to overcome fear.

Joy like a river

In contrast to the surging chaos of the oceans, images of rivers and streams frequently express a sense of tranquil peace in the Bible. The idyll of Eden in Genesis 2, the ‘quiet waters’ of Psalm 23, the life-giving rivers of Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22, all convey a serene confidence that generates depths of contentment. The bubbling source of such profound joy is again the firm conviction that God is with us.

Active peace

It’s somewhat unfortunate that most translations use the phrase ‘be still’, which we tend to associate with the peace of quietly resting in God’s presence. In the busyness of the Advent period, we certainly need occasions when we gently centre our lives on God, but the original language is an imperative command, rather than a placid invitation.

‘That’s enough! Now know that I am God!’ (v10 Common English Bible) is closer to the original sense of a clarion call, urging total surrender to God, who brings peace. Responding to this summons is the foundation of true peace for our own lives and for shalom in our relationships with others.

Psalm 46 can therefore encourage us towards active engagement in peacemaking: ‘I would bring peace to lives now torn asunder’ (SASB 628).

As we reflect throughout this Advent season, may we fully recognise the rule of the Prince of Peace and actively pursue holistic peace for all.

Written by

Major Malcolm Martin

Major Malcolm Martin

Publishing Secretary, Corps Officer, Thornton Heath

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