It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in mortals.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.
~ Psalm 118.8-9
One of the most influential religious teachers I had as a child was the redoubtable woman who served as the organist and choir director at my Episcopal church. During our twice-weekly youth choir rehearsals, she not only instructed us about the hymns and anthems we practiced—their composers, their musical settings, the story of their origins—but also imparted lasting lessons of theology and spirituality. When we rehearsed Martin Luther’s magnificent hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” she made sure we understood that no matter how trustworthy a friend or loved one was, only God would never let us down.
The psalmist offers the same advice in today’s tidily packaged verse doublet. Using parallel vocabulary and syntax to contrast the divine and the human, our poet—like my choir director—teaches that taking refuge in God is preferable to trusting in fickle, unreliable humankind. Or as Falstaff’s man Pistol warned his wife upon his departure for France to join King Henry V in Shakespeare’s play, “Trust none, for oaths are straws, [and] men’s faiths are wafer-cakes.”
It’s tempting to (mis)place our confidence in the powers and principalities of the world: advertisers with their promises, politicians with their plans, pundits with their prognostications. But the glittering assurances of human life, no matter how compelling, will inevitably disappoint us. Over against the transience and insufficiency of mortal existence, God offers an abiding and perfect refuge. He is the bulwark never failing. It is not only better, but best, to place our confidence in him.
Eternal, immovable God, Help me put my full trust in you and your faithful love, and not in the devices and desires of mortal making. Amen.
For today’s readings, click here.
You can access the complete collection of the Advent 2015 Reflection Series here.
To listen to “A Mighty Fortress,” click here.
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