Be Still, My Soul: Old Lyrics with Timeless Truths


Lately, the words of this classic hymn have echoed in my head. The stirring melody by Jean Sebelius has become the theme music for my summer. Be Still My Soul.

As Chris Anderson argues in his book, Theology That Sticks,* the great hymns of the faith often remind us of the truths of God’s Word far longer than any book we read or sermon we hear. Let’s walk through the lyrics of Be Still My Soul and discover what Scripture passages German hymnwriter Kathrina von Schlegel (and translator Jane Borthwick) reference throughout this hymn.

1. God, Sovereign and Faithful

(1) Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
in every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Similar to many of the psalms, the hymnwriter talks to herself. She commands her soul to be still (Psalm 42:11; 43:5). Why? Because God is there at her side (Psalm 118:6). He is in control and has power to provide what she needs (Psalm 23:1). God is that friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Like Christ, we must look to the joy set before us as we endure the cross (Hebrews 12:2). Every step of our journey, God is sovereign and faithful.

2. God, Omniscient and Omnipotent

(2) Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
to guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

In verse two, the hymnwriter muses on God’s guidance, wisdom, and omniscience. How God has orchestrated events in the past He will continue in the future (Isaiah 46:10). Now we see through a glass darkly, but God will guide us through the shadows until His glorious day (1 Corinthians 13:12). The obvious reference to Jesus calming the stormy sea reminds us of His power that still overcomes every obstacle (Mark 4:39). Though we often have many unanswered questions and can easily feel overwhelmed, we can rest in God’s omniscience and omnipotence.

3. God, Comforter and Rewarder

(3) Be still, my soul; when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the veil of tears,
then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
from His own fullness all He takes away.

I had never heard this verse before I looked up guitar chords for this hymn and discovered this stanza inserted before the final verse. When everyone else is gone, God still remains (Psalm 27:10). Only when what we depend on is stripped away can we experience His comforting presence (Philippians 3:10). Whatever we lose, Jesus can fill that emptiness from His own fullness (Ephesians 3:19). God is our comforter and rewarder.

4. God, Savior and Restorer

(4) Be still, my soul; the hour is hast’ning on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

The final verse rings with allusions to the great promises of eternal life. In von Schlegel’s lyrics, I can hear Jesus’ final words, “Surely I come quickly” (Revelation 22:20). I resonate with Paul’s declaration: “and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). The hymnwriter hints at the description of the new heaven and new earth of Revelation 21. Like writers in both testaments, she points us to the end when God makes all things right. God is our savior and restorer.

Be Still My Soul

As this hymn has reminded believers for generations, we can have peace through every change and difficulty. God’s character remains constant. His presence will not leave us. His power cannot wane. His will shall be done. Whatever uncertainty lies before us today, the end is guaranteed. And so, be still my soul.

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MR Conrad Bio

Dr. Conrad serves in urban Asia. He, his wife, and their four children squeeze into a 700 square-foot apartment where he seizes rare moments of quiet to write amidst homeschooling, a cacophony of musical instruments, and the steady stream of visitors they so enjoy having in their home. He enjoys birding, board games, and basketball. He is the author of, so far, two books.