A Mighty Fortress & A Fearful World

Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” has been running through my head the last few years.

It comes to mind when I ponder discussions of politics, and I’ve thought of it when reflecting on God in the midst of this pandemic.

The hymn celebrates God as “a mighty fortress,” “a bulwark never failing,” our helper “amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.” It portrays Jesus as “the Lord of Hosts,” exalted “above all earthly pow’rs,” and “the Spirit and the gifts” within the church.

It captures well our experience in this world that threatens “to undo us.”

We sing it to confess that “we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.” And despite “the prince of darkness, grim, we tremble not for him.”

At first glance, it seems a pretty easy step from God being “a mighty fortress” to having no cause for fear or trembling.

But it’s worth taking a closer look at the reason for hope in God while living in a threatening world.

The hymn’s final line reveals that what frees us from fear is our identity as those who belong to a kingdom that lasts forever. We do not belong to this world, but to the one to come.

And God’s truth triumphs through us when we live in this world as the hymn says: “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever.”

This is why the hymn keeps coming to mind in discussions of politics, as well as in the midst of this pandemic: we tend to begin our discussions with our fears. And I wonder if this is because we hold so tightly to this world and think little of our home in the one to come.

We are afraid of what we may lose.

Political discussions tend to be driven by policies that favor us, keeping people from getting their hands on our money and our stuff. Christians, however, have a different starting point: because of our hope in a future kingdom, we hold our goods loosely. And we can consider policies that will benefit others, even if that means we have to share our money and have less stuff.

Discussions of immigration tend to be driven by a desire to keep others out, protecting our jobs and ourselves from their threatening presence. But Christians don’t have this drive to protect jobs and our lives. Because of this, we can regard immigrants charitably and consider policies that are welcoming.

In the midst of this pandemic, we may find ourselves speaking about God from our desire for safety and security in this world. We are afraid of losing our material goods, our loved ones and our lives, even as we have sung for years the exhortation to “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.”

The present moment is indeed a fearful one. But Christian hope is in the future. We do not live in a safe world, but one that will feel like it is coming undone. We will feel insecure in a world filled with suffering that, at times, grows intense.

The Christian vision of everything in this world begins with our identities as people who belong to the world to come, and we think and talk from there.

This liberates us to live as God’s gifts to others, bringing refreshment and relief to those who suffer. And we are freed to welcome others as God’s gifts to us, receiving all the richness they can bring into our lives.

We overcome our fears by hoping in the new creation to come. That is how we display God’s triumph and live our faith that “his kingdom is forever.”

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