For the fourth year in a row, Australians have good reason to hope ardently that the new year will be better than the one before.
Since the end of 2019 we have endured pestilence, fires, floods and (indirectly) war, not to mention severe challenges to the world order and the global economy.
Australians have good reason to hope this year will be better than the last.
The promise of this shiny new year, I fear, is more of the same. It is going to be full of challenges, local and global. But even so, there’s something psychologically refreshing about a new year, the suggestion of a fresh start.
My new year’s resolution is not to make any resolutions. They are doomed to disappoint, getting broken almost instantly, as indeed has the one I just cited.
But whatever goes wrong, the Bible tells us that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46).
What does that mean? Not, as some churches affirm, that believers will be spared the harms to which humankind is heir if they simply have enough faith – the very mention of “trouble” disproves that. No one is immune; God is not an automatic vending machine with prayers in and desired results out.
What it does promise is that we do not suffer alone, and we shall endure because God is with us.
There is a poem about a pilgrim on life’s journey noticing two sets of footprints along the way, hers and God’s. But in times of great trial, there was only one. “Why, when I needed you most, would you leave me?” she asks God. The reply: “I will never leave you. When you saw but one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
Though the poem is horribly saccharine, it conveys a biblical truth that comforts believers.
A refuge is a place of trust, a place where cares are dispelled. The Bible is filled with such descriptions of God as a refuge and shield.
In Psalm 18, King David writes: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” In Psalm 28, he writes: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”
The great German reformer Martin Luther loved Psalm 46 and drew on it in his famous hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God. When he heard any discouraging news, reportedly he would say “Come, let us sing the 46th psalm”. Not a bad plan.
Barney Zwartz is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity.
This article was first published in The Age.