That is the exhortation we hear from God in Psalms 46:10. But how possible is this in our modern technological world? What does it mean to be still before God? I used to think I understood this but after living for 3 years on the Navajo reservation in a traditional hogan with no electricity or running water, no television, no hot showers or washing machines; no microwaves or refrigerators, no public transportation or paved roads leading up to my house, I found there is a level of stillness that I never knew existed.
In Genesis chapter 11 we read the story of the tower of Babel. The inhabitants of the earth were increasing and they decided to build a tower in order to make a name for themselves, lest they be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth. The people wanted to trust in themselves and place their confidence in their own efforts and technology. And even what they built made sense. If you are few in numbers and the environment is harsh, it makes perfect sense to build a city and erect a tower. The city walls will provide security within and the tower will allow those traveling outside the walls to be able to go a greater distance and still see the way home.
But God wanted the people to trust in him and so he came down and confused their language and scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. This passage is a good reminder for us to keep our trust in God and not rely upon the works of our own hands. And that is an easy thing to do; as long as our hands are producing something. It is easy to trust in God for our daily bread when we have a good job and receive a regular paycheck. It is easy to trust God for our future when we have a retirement fund and a savings account. It is easy to trust in God for our health, when we have excellent insurance and live near a good hospital.
Our towers of Babel have been there for so long and have become such a part of our landscape that we do not even realize that we trust in them anymore. Every day we wake up, see the tower and know where we are. We feel at peace because the tower is there. That is, until the tower is gone. How do our hearts feel when the paycheck is no longer available? What is our response when we are laid off and our health insurance policy is declined or Social Security in on the verge of going bankrupt? Panic sets in. Our hearts cry out, “We need these things. That is how God provides for us.” We have become so accustomed to our towers of Babel that we no longer see them as ‘our towers’; we see them as gifts from God. And when they are gone we feel as if God has left us!
“God where are you? We cannot see the tower you gave us!” We scream as we run to where the tower used to be. “God, please help us to rebuild this tower. We need it! Please God! Where are you? Where is the beautiful tower you gave us?”
But God is silent.
Bills come due, sickness sets in, and our credit ratings take a hit.
And still God is silent
“God!” we scream, “where is the tower? We cannot see it. We are lost. Please help us!”
Finally, we fall silent. The screaming is over. We are hungry, cold and sick. The towers are gone, God is silent, and we feel as if there is nothing left. But then we remember the words of the Psalmist. “Be still and know that I am God.”
God is the God of creation. He created the mountains, oceans and deserts. The animals, fish and birds of the air are the work of His hands. Every morning He paints the sunrise and every sunset is His masterpiece. Rain, snow, earthquakes and volcanoes are the signs of his power, blessing and judgment. God is the God of creation.
We are the people of the towers. Skyscrapers and cities, airports and harbors, insurance policies and saving accounts; all of these are the fruits of our labors. We have erected them to create a name for ourselves. And when we see them we feel safe and secure.
But God speaks through his creation. He called Moses in a burning bush. Every rainbow is a sign of God’s promise to never again destroy the earth in a flood. Often when we read of, or see God’s judgment, He is using His creation to destroy our towers. And yet, in our foolishness we continue to challenge Him and build bigger and better towers. We build skyscrapers high into the sky and put the foundations on springs or rollers to protect against earthquakes. We build our beautiful homes on the edge of cliffs so that we may have a view others will covet. We send people to the moon and place our flag there, as if to claim some sort of ownership. We offer ‘Lifetime warranties’ on our products and sell insurance policies to cover everything imaginable. “God will not win,” we say, “we will prevail.”
I did not realize how much this mentality permeated my thinking until we moved to our hogan that is located on a dirt road, six miles off the nearest paved road. The dirt road is pure clay and when it gets wet from rain or snow it is practically impassable. In fact, I have gotten stuck on this road numerous times as I traveled home in the rain. Once I was able to walk home, but another time my family and I had to spend the night in the car. So I have quickly learned that when it rains we do not go out.
One Friday as my wife and I were getting ready for bed, I checked the weather. It had been a beautiful sunny day, so I was surprised to see the forecast calling for 3 days of rain and snow beginning that very night. We had planned to go grocery shopping the next day as we were nearly out of food and water, but when we saw the forecast we decided that I should drive the 25 miles into Window Rock immediately in order to pick up what we needed in case we were stuck at the hogan in the snow for the next 3 days. So I did.
The next morning the sky was cloudy but no rain or snow fell. After a couple of hours of debating we decided to head back into Window Rock to run a few more errands. We took our 4x4 truck just in case the rains came. They never came. The next day was exactly the same. It was cloudy in the morning and we debated back and forth on whether or not to drive the 60 miles to church. We finally decided to try it, again taking our 4x4 truck so we would have a better chance of making it back home should the rains come.
On our way to church, as we were driving the final 4 miles up a winding road back in the hills deep in the heart of the reservation, I noticed it had been raining quite hard. There were pools of water all over the ground and some small streams still ran alongside the road. But I also noticed I was not afraid. In fact I felt no tension at all, for the road was paved. “If this were the road near our hogan” I said to myself, “I would be very worried, for we could get stuck at any moment and have to walk several miles back home.”
When it rains at our hogan we literally cannot go anywhere, so we sit. We read books, we pray, we spend time as a family. We are still and in that stillness we remember God. When it rains at our hogan we can hear God inviting us, saying, “Stay here. Don’t go anywhere. Be still and know that I am God.” But if our road were paved we probably would not hear God’s voice in this way, for the weather would have very little impact on our lives. Even during the rain and snow we could still get in our truck and do what we needed. We could go where we wanted and do as we pleased. We would feel safe and secure thinking God was with us, because look, He has blessed us, the road is paved. Our tower is strong. We can go about our business.
We would never realize that with the pitter patter of the falling rain God was faintly whispering, “Wait, don’t go! Be still and know that I am God.”