Hurricane

 

When the water comes, you don’t think in inches. You think in furniture, in body parts, in whole buildings. It starts walking up the steps, swallowing to the waist, to the neck, drowning the neighbor’s home to the roof.

“The floods have lifted up, O LORD,
               the floods have lifted up their voice;
               the floods lift up their roaring.”

Hurricane Harvey began as a small storm on the western coast of Africa, and made its way across the Atlantic. Thirteen days later, engorged with water, it slammed into the United States, the strongest to strike Texas in a generation. The water lifted, constantly lifted, disfiguring and disorienting Houston and swaths of the area around it. Its departure was meager relief, disaster and death strewn in its wake.

“The floods have lifted up, O LORD,
               the floods have lifted up their voice;
               the floods lift up their roaring.”

These words from Psalm 93, with their rhythmic build, mimic the terror they describe. The floods, the floods, the floods—Hebrew poetry doesn’t major on three-fold repetition, it jars the reader intentionally. The floods are personified too, and they don’t just speak, their voices lift like a watery host, building to a roar.

This menace rises in the middle of the psalm after its opening declaration of the LORD God’s power, visualized in the imagery of royal robes. The poet proclaims, “Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.”

But these rebellious floods. In the face of the God who speaks stars into being, they roar, they taunt, they bring destruction and death. The sea, chaotic water, is a frequent symbol of evil in the Bible, a potent picture since humanity is so vulnerable before its power. Too many of our neighbors have wailed in grief these past months, realizing this bitterly, even in the safety of modern life.

Then immediately the response:

“Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
                mightier than the waves of the sea,
                the LORD on high is mighty!”

The LORD is not vulnerable, he is high above. The waters can’t crush him—they don’t even reach his feet. Their rebellion and chaos are matched, more than. He will calm them.

But is this good news for us?

We are born rebels. Whether roaring or murmuring, we are born hating God’s claim to authority, distrusting his goodness, his beauty, even his existence. We say, Surely we are wise enough to rule the world. Surely we know enough to make the best choices for ourselves. Surely we are self-made people, mighty and good.

God’s might in this poem, his forever-robed power, is meant for the staying of rebellion. While some rebellions in history have been just and right, rebellion against God only masquerades as righteous. It borrows the heroic narratives of the justified but brings the destruction of a flood: all encompassing, smothering death. Lungs filled, but with counterfeit substance.

Is it a forever-drowning? After all, as the psalm ends, the verdict is clear: God’s laws and covenant are trustworthy. The holiness that adorns his house is forever. We are unholy covenant breakers, how can we stand?

We stand because he is not only mighty, but full of rescuing love. In the aftermath of Harvey and the other storms, it was the rescue stories that showed the reflection of God in us. Women and men who plowed into the waters to save their children, their neighbors, even strangers. Some lost their lives in the effort, and we feel the nobility of it, the humanity of it, the love of it.

Jesus became human to perform this rescuing love. His whole life bore its marks, and it was demonstrated finally when he was dying. The flood of God’s wrath crept up his body, swallowing it totally on the cross that was lifted from the earth, even up to the heavens which went dark. He was drowned by the cup, saving us. Mighty, he went under while lifting us over his head. His lungs filled with the water of judgment, our lungs breathed true for the first time with new life.

Psalm 93 tells of God’s steadfast might against the chaos of watery death. The whole Bible tells of his steadfast love for its victims and perpetrators. He is robed in majesty, and he offers you the clothes of salvation—beautiful, breathtaking wedding clothes, so much more than the wool blankets of rescue workers. They are held out for you to take, they are held out for your joy in the LORD who loves you. An everlasting joy for an everlasting God.