How did it come to this?
Like many Americans I watched horrified as the windows were busted out at the U.S. Capitol, and men and women stormed in to challenge the results of the 2020 election. I saw images I never thought I would: police injured on the steps of our nation’s government; news headlines of bombs at the RNC; men wearing horns, military tactical gear, and more standing in the ruined lobbies; congressmen and congresswomen hiding under chairs. We heard more horrible news: the Vice-President has been taken into Secret-Service protection; a woman has been shot and is now dead, as well as three others; sixty cops have sustained injuries, and two are critical; social media platforms have banned the President; a noose and gallows were erected on the far side of the capitol. The 25th Amendment? Another impeachment? Objections to the election?
Washington D.C. was shaken to its core.
Outside of Washington, the scene played out online: “It was a right wing insurrection!” “It was ANTIFA!” “It was Trump’s fault!” “It’s a conspiracy!” “The deep state is so deep it goes all the way up!” “You’re a liar!” “You are an idiot!” “Our relationship is over!” Those who have long been friendly neighbors now seems to share no love for one another, nor a common understanding of reality. Friendships have ended this week. Families have been broken. Pastors I know, already at their breaking point, have finally resigned. Our country is broken, and with it many of the communities, churches, and families that compose it.
Much can be said of the events of this week, and much will be said by men and women far more qualified than myself. I will leave the politics and analysis to them.1
As my eyes have been filled with images of rioting and destruction, I have returned again and again to thinking about a different city. Years ago, I was challenged by a pastor to memorize Psalm 46, and to meditate on it in times of crisis, grief, or when the world seems to be slipping out from under me.
Psalm 46 points us towards a city that is not like Washington, D.C. It is not submitted to the turmoil of political violence or rioting. It not not a city filled with violence. I want to post that full Psalm here, though that is not my normal practice. I think it needs to be read in full to have it’s full effect:
46 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Selah. Rest. Take a moment. Think on these words.
I am reminded today that there is a city over which I will not grieve. There is a city which I will never look upon with sadness, distress, or with tears. This city of God will not be subject to the rotation of leaders who sit in the Oval Office. It is the holy habitation of the Most High. Immovable. Helped by God.
Who is this God that dwells in the unshakeable city? That is the wrong question. Who is this God who makes the city unshakeable? Who is this God who, by his very presence, ensures total peace? Who is the God whose voice melts the raging nations of the earth and makes wars cease to the ends of the earth?
It is the God of Jacob.
I find great assurance in that identifier. Jacob was a fool. He was a liar. He was a usurper. His story is not one of faithfulness, nor is it one of godliness. His children were not better, and sold their brother into slavery over a personality conflict. Simply put, Jacob is a sinner. Jacob is, like me, only a picture of God’s rich grace. If not for God’s grace, Jacob dies on a random plain in the Middle East and his line ends at the point of Esau’s sword and perhaps we never hear of him. But he did not die. His line did not end. The Lord, by his grace, kept unfaithful Jacob and used him for his own glory.
God’s purposes and God’s promises were bigger than Jacob. Today, we are reminded that God’s purposes and God’s promises are bigger than America, bigger than Donald Trump, bigger than Nancy Pelosi, and bigger than our fears, frustrations, or failures. The God who kept his promises to Jacob will keep his promises to you and me if we are in Christ. Those are not promises about a candidate in Washington, D.C., or even a future for our country. God’s promise is this: we will dwell with him in a city that cannot be shaken. God has provided something better for us, in Christ, than Jacob or the Psalmist every knew about (Heb. 11-12).
I want to do something. I want to say something clever. I want to be convincing about what I think we should do from here or where we should go; who is to blame and who has the best sense of how to fix it. In my own pride, I can believe that if we can do that, then maybe we can fix it. Maybe we can fix one another. Maybe we can fix ourselves. But we cannot. Things are far too complex, and I am far too finite.
Hebrews 11:10 tells us the nature of Abraham’s saving faith: “[Abraham] was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
This, I believe, explains God’s command at the end of Psalm 46. After nine verses about his power, glory, majesty, worthiness, and might, God does not call us to go to war on his behalf. He calls us to be still. Trust him. Trust him for the things he has promised, not the things he has not promises that coincide with our pride, our politics, or our position. The Son of God was crucified: it may be that God does not plan to give us everything we want.
This week has been a good reminder that perhaps we have drifted away from our true hope in the flurry of activity, tragedy, and strife. It is time to be still once more before God. If we have purposefully, or accidentally, convinced ourselves that God desperately needs us to protect him or that God’s highest priority is giving us power or position, we should now be reminded: he is our fortress. He protects us. He is not waiting for us to establish a city for him. He is not waiting to rule in Washington. There is no Jesus 2024 campaign: he need not stoop to that level. He is enthroned and in control. And his city is immovable.
God has a city. She will not be moved. He is with us. He is our fortress.
1 Some may feel that this post is a dodge at addressing the real issues—to them I say that I understand that response. But this is a word, not the final word, nor is it all the words that need to be spoken. It is a lament, my own attempt at processing what I have seen this week, not a post mortem or even a full thought. This season ahead should be full of repentance, apologies, commitments to do better, clarity about what has gone wrong, and resolve.