I heard… a loud voice like a trumpet…
…[a] voice… like the sound of many rushing waters…
a loud voice from the throne…
Please note that references in parentheses refer to books of the Bible unless otherwise specified.
The Living Presence
My previous post, Song of the Surf, explores the dynamic spiritual reality we can become aware of amidst wondrous natural surroundings in this creation. As I walk the ocean’s waving shore, I know God is present, living, creating love, for me and you. To help us ride this wave “further up and further in” (C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle), I want to sound here a few more crescendos of this song.
Highest among them, at the crest of this wave, I am convinced here anew that God does not just exist. Seriously, a rock exists, can be beautiful, even has its uses – but it would be foolish to believe a rock is a god just because it exists (and you can check out Isaiah’s prophecy for more on that). Despite such reasonable warnings, however, some in Israel of old, and the modern theology of Deism (held to by many American fore-fathers and Presidents), for example, acknowledge there is a creator god of some sort, but that’s about it. The god of Deism is merely an old man in some far-distant sky, who just wound up the world like an impersonal time-piece and then went on a permanent holiday a long way away (like the American concept of “retirement”), to let us stew alone in whatever crises the orange clockwork sunsets of history may leave us to deal with.
In stark contrast to such notions of a distant obsolete “god,” the true living creator God is always much more than that, and very different, when truth is told. The true God is alive with goodness. This God is love, the one who is here for us now. This God is on the move, taking action in history to deliver us from those crises, into new life. This God is here, for us, now, to care, and to burn undying hope into our hearts for each new sunrise.
The Undying Flame
This reflection continues my blog series Bushes Still Burning, focusing on how God meets us through the natural creation and other such wonder-full ways. That is what Moses of old encountered in something as natural as a dry bush burning in a hot desert. Like the music I hear on the beach, this is also the torch-flame of the burning bush. Here, God sets a bush ablaze with a fire that does not burn out, to ignite a vision in Moses’ heart that cannot die out. Here and now, to this shepherd and murderer, God reveals God’s name: YHWH.
In essence, YHWH (Yah-weh) means “I am” – and more fully in context, “I am-was-will-be.” God’s name reveals God’s nature: “I am who I was,” “I will be who I was,” “I am who I will be,” “I will be who I am,” so “I am who I am” – God’s character faithful yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Exodus 3; Psalms 103, 117; Hebrews 13, for example). Most importantly, God reveals this through taking action for God’s people in this world. So God empowers Moses to prophesy to the imperial Pharaoh-emperor, under whom God’s people suffer in slavery: “Let my people go!” (Exodus 3) Here is the story-in-action meaning of God’s name, the hope-happening-here-for-us nature of God, revealed with a bush still burning. So God lights this fire in our bones, for corrupt and unjust leaders to get out of the way, for us to know: “The living God is here for us, to deliver us!”
Peace In the Storm
To return to beach settings, this also reveals deep meaning for me with the background of that Hebraic culture. They often thought the sea IS chaos: a mighty monster of mythical diabolical proportions, threatening to destroy existence. Little love is lost for the seashores of life in such an anxious land-bound comfort-zone mindset (remind you of anyone?). As a clue of better things to come, the prophet Jonah, who was swallowed at sea by a monster of the deep, learned some appreciation for the beach when he suddenly found himself resurrected upon its shores of new possibilities. But to most, the big waters of the chaos monsters of this world meant the threat of death.
Then one day some Hebrew fishermen found themselves in a floundering boat grasping for any straw paddle to survive a vicious storm descended upon them on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8). There “they met someone they did not expect” (The Two Towers, the movie). Oh, their teacher Jesus was with them. But what good is a wise man in the face of the chaos monster of death? The Greek text of this New Testament account calls this volatile sea-storm a “Seismos,” echoing a monstrous earthquake-of-a-power that can generate tsunami waves, a seismic-scale shaking overturning of stable reality. What can any merely human mortal do about such diabolical darkness from beyond this world?
In their fears, they know not who Jesus fully is, not until in a storm fighting for their lives, crying out from under towering waves of chaos, “Save us!,” though with no realistic faith that could actually happen here and now. Then, in this moment where humanity in all its smallness meets nature in all its bigness, Jesus acts like someone more. Jesus takes his stand in their boat of human culture and technology and comfort, tossed and blown like a puny cork on the angry waves of chaos. Here Jesus speaks like the God who spoke forth life into the chaos in the first place, the God who set a bush afire without burning it up, the God who sent a pet whale to swallow a deserter prophet (or an unfaithful people) to spit them out whole again on a beach of life, the God who declares to the chaos-quakes of history and false leaders: “Be still and know that I AM God” – the God who is here for you to deliver you (Psalm 46).
Jesus speaks peace to the chaos. Jesus stills the storm. Jesus talks with the natural creation as one with authority even greater than its vast powers. So Jesus moves his followers – and all of us if we will – to wonder: who is this that speaks in so compelling a way the forces of nature follow his words of life?! Who is this who tames the chaos beast of death, and resurrects our dreams onto a beach of new life?! It is here and now that Jesus, the Son of Man, does what only the creator God can do. And so in this deathly dark night, Jesus creates faith in our hearts, a faith to live and hope by.
Riding the Wave
Years later, one of Jesus’ followers finds himself at the seashore again, caught in a fire-storm against his freedom. John is exiled to the prisoner-island of Patmos, for political crimes of believing in Jesus, the Messiah of God, the Lord of all kings (Revelation 1, 11). Here, the waters crash against the rocks with the apparent sound and fury of imperial persecution. In his apocalyptic letter, John assures fellow believers we are still one with Jesus in such sufferings. He goes on to describe heavenly visions that put corrupt leaders in their puny places as relics of history. With the sound of the surf pounding in his mind, John describes a vision of the living Jesus:
I was in the Spirit…
I heard… a loud voice like a trumpet…
I saw… someone like a Son of Man…
He said: “Do not be afraid…
I am the Living One;
I was dead, and behold I am alive forever!…”
His voice was like
the sound of many rushing waters!
(Revelation 1; Daniel 7; Matthew 17 [NIV/NRSV])
With our recent move, this time of returning to the seashore also is not without anxiety. We are grateful we do not suffer imprisonment for believing in Jesus the Messiah – though too many brothers and sisters still do. And wherever we are, this sometimes chaotic world still tosses us all about in its troubles. In a labyrinth of new surroundings, in seeking new community, in wishing I could make everything perfect for my family, I wander in one of these sleepless nights onto our new balcony. From here at night, we can hear the waves rushing onto the beach. To me, changed by meeting the Son of Man from Galilee who stills the storms, the surf sings with his living voice of many waters. So here and now I know, there is more. With these rushing waters I hear his promise from another of John’s visions:
I saw a new heaven and a new earth…
and there was no longer any chaos…
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Now the dwelling of God is with people…”
God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning
or crying or pain…”
He who was seated on the throne said,
“I am making everything new!”
(Revelation 21 [see NIV/NRSV])
Readers are also encouraged to explore other posts in this series: Bushes Still Burning.
God so loved the world… God is love!
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…
and the tree of life…
at the middle of the great street of the city…
and the leaves of the tree
are for the healing of the cultures.
John 3; 1 John 4; Revelation 21, 22