Reading 8—God, Our Mighty Fortress
This is a Korah Psalm (part of a collection of Psalms likely collected by the Korahites, who were a group of Temple singers). The Psalm (esp. v.1) inspired Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” It is a song of Zion celebrating God’s ultimate victory over the nations, even using what is bad in the world to make good of them. Its emphasis on the Holy City, that God’s dwelling place will remain secure in Jerusalem (vv.4-7), is why the Psalm is classified as a Song of Zion.
The Lesson begins with praise for the God who is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. As a result, we will not fear though facing the worst catastrophes (vv.1-3). Waters in the sea are said to be a threat to people, the Psalm states (vv.2-3). Famed modern theologian Karl Barth provides a thoughtful insight on this point. He claims that water has a part in all the force of the human world hostile to us; it gives life to all that opposes God. But God subdues the water, even puts it to good use in the river which is said to make the City of God glad (v.5; Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol.III/1, pp.148-149).
Then the Psalm refers to this great and strong God being in the midst of us (v.5), presumably as He is found in the waters which He rules. Martin Luther elaborates on this point in a way most compatible with modern String Theory. He wrote:
He [God] is supernatural, inscrutable being Who exists at the same time in every little seed whole and entire and yet also in all above and outside created things. (Luther’s Works, Vol.37, p.228)
In order for String Theory to work it must posit the existence of extra, invisible dimensions in addition to height, width, depth, and time. Luther’s comments suggest that God occupies these invisible dimensions. He truly is in the midst of everything! Consider some object in the room in which you are reading, even your own body. God is Present in them, holding their components together!
With this awareness that we are ever in God’s Presence, that He never abandons us, the Psalm’s conclusion that God’s Kingdom overcomes the nations and brings peace (vv.8-11) is an obvious expression of praise. Confident in God’s Presence in every corner of our lives, aware that He is the Giver of everything good, fear begins to evaporate.
In what sense is God a mighty fortress?
What are we to make of the sadnesses, tragedies, and evils in life? Does God send them? If not, how is God still in control?
Mark Ellingsen is an NC Synod pastor, who after years of service in Lutheran theological institutions and parishes (including here in North Carolina), has served for over quarter of a century on the faculty of our nation’s oldest and largest accredited historic African-American seminary, the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. Mark is the author of 23 book and hundreds of published articles with work often appearing in Living Lutheran and several NC Synod publications (including Ever-Reforming: A Reformation 500 Cross-Generational Study). His latest books include Martin Luther’s Legacy: Reforming Reformation Theology for the 21st Century (Palgrave Macmillan) and Ever Hear of Feuerbach? That’s How Come the Mainline Churches Are In Such a Funk (Cascade).