The grace in God’s disturbing acts

StormMany people draw comfort from favorite Bible verses. But what are we supposed to make of verses that aren’t comforting at all? Especially when they appear nestled among some of the grandest promises in Scripture?

In the Bible open on my desk as I write this post, Psalm 104 is titled “Praise to the Sovereign Lord for His Creation and Providence.” It extols God for creating the world and every living thing upon it. It describes in loving detail how he cares tenderly for all the birds and animals—which, it says, he made for the service of humanity.

But that psalm is not sweetness and light from beginning to end. Consider these darker and more ominous verses:

2 The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.
4 He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.

29 When you hide your face, they [all forms of animal life, including humans] are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.

31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.

35 But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more.

The menace

Life includes terrible storms. Weather events that destroy homes, businesses, and lives in mere moments of time make nationwide or even worldwide headlines. These swirling winds and overwhelming floods in nature become metaphors for emotionally wrenching times in our lives, which may last for years. Where is this loving God?

It says in verses 2-4 that God is riding on the thunderstorm. He controls it in all of its destructive fury. The lightning strikes at his bidding.

Verse 28 speaks of the eyes of every living thing looking to God, who feeds each one at the proper time. But then verse 29 speaks of the terror and death that come when this same God hides his face and withholds breath.

Verse 31 speaks of the glory of the Lord. Glory has aspects both of reputation (acclaim, fame, adulation) and bright, shining light. And then the image of God rejoicing in all his works (which he called “good” and in man’s case “very good” when he created them) shifts abruptly. When God looks at the earth, he causes as much fear as when he hides his face! God tenderly feeds the birds, but when he touches a mountain, it becomes a menacing volcano.

The psalmist prays for the destruction of sinners, but wait a minute! Isn’t that everyone?

When we go through the storms of life, we inevitably ask, “Where is God?” We wonder if he knows what we’re going through, or cares. We wonder if he’s punishing us for something. Or maybe wonder if the circumstances that we see arrayed against us are too powerful for him to answer our frantic prayers.

The last answer we want to hear is that God knows very well what storms we’re going through, because he is actively controlling them, “riding on the wings of the wind.” Nevertheless, that’s the exact answer that we get.

The grace

We don’t know when the storms of life will cease. We’re living in the middle of our story and can’t know, in earthly terms, how it will work out. Christians have the living hope that the end of the story in spiritual terms will be redemption from sin and adoption into God’s own family.

Stories of God’s own people, from Genesis to Revelation, show how all the greatest heroes of the faith suffered through terrible times and came out of them stronger than they were when the storm began. Jesus suffered more than anyone else.

We can read their stories from beginning to end. With the single exception of Jesus, all the people of the Bible exhibit weaknesses of character. Abraham was a sniveling, cowardly liar. Peter was a braggart who could never quite live up to his boasts. It was their trials that turned them into heroes of the faith.

Can’t we, even in the middle of our own stories, recognize that God wants to make something more of us than what we are? Maybe that’s God’s preferred way of making sinners vanish from the earth, to echo Psalm 104:35. By grace, by completely undeserved favor, God intends to transform the sinners into the righteous.

Even Jesus felt forsaken on the cross, but he wasn’t. He died on the cross; then he descended into hell so that we don’t have to. He rose again having conquered sin and death once for all. “All” includes me. And it includes you.

Photo credit. Some rights reserved by MSG Family.

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