Psalm 46

God is our refuge and our strength

I’m sorry, but when I hear or read those words my immediate thought is the name “Biggles” which, as well as being unhelpful, is also culturally very specific. Let me explain.

There is a hymn, a versified version of this psalm, 46, which is well-written and a good sing. The sentiments of this psalm are faithfully represented. The tune given for it is quite catchy and, I think, fairly easy to pick up. So far, so good. Unfortunately, that hymn tune is closely based on the theme tune to a World War II film from the 1950’s. If I were to say, “The Dambusters March”, would you understand? The film is about an RAF raid intended to blow up several dams in the Ruhr valley. It emphasises the derring-do of the air crew rather more than the casualties on the ground. What you may not know is that there is a series of books, fiction for boys if you like, from the same era as the film. In it “Biggles”, the hero, is a pilot in the RAF. The books are of their time and even when I was a young reader they felt a bit dated. However, the picture of a pilot with helmet and flying goggles has stuck in the mind; and that is what I see when I hear psalm 46 to that tune.

Having said that; while I think war is wrong and that we all too easily forget the pain, death and suffering that it brings; I do believe that during World War II many, if not most, of the Allies acted in good faith: they fought in order, somehow, “to make the world a better place”.

That said, I note what the psalmist hears God say: “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” Or, as another translation puts it: “Stop fighting, and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme over the world.”

A prayer from “Common Worship”

Eternal God, give us insight to discern your will for us, to give up what harms us, and to seek the perfection we are promised in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Additional Collect, Lent 3)