Driving down the Causeway connecting North Muskegon with the city of Muskegon can be a harrowing experience. The crosswind tumbles and rushes down from Muskegon Lake, challenging drivers to stay in their lane. At night, when the wind gusts up to 35 mph and kicks up surf and rain under a heavy blanket of menacing clouds, one cannot help but be moved (literally and spiritually) by this force of nature.
Many years ago, my confirmation class and I made a late evening trip to the Indiana Dunes on the shore of Lake Michigan. There was barely enough light to see as we walked along the beach. The wind bit through our clothes. I faced the Lake and watched the outlines of the clouds roll overhead, pushed by the dynamic forces between air masses.
I remember thinking, “This… this is what it means to see God.”
I can’t recall exactly when storms began to fascinate me. There is something about them—something wild and uncontrollable, something more powerful than humanity, something unstoppable—that makes me take notice and acknowledge that I don’t have an ounce of strength compared to them.
People in the ancient world recognized this same human frailty. Storms have often been identified with the presence and the power of God.
Look, the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. (Jer 23:19 NRS)
The LORD is slow to anger but great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. (Nah 1:3 NRS)
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. (Psa 77:18 NRS)
One can also, depending on how much imagination one gets from the Hebrew, interpret the pillar of cloud and fire from Exodus as a storm. And my Hebrew professor made a strong case that the “gentle breeze” of Genesis 4 could instead be a loud, raucous wind (which would further explain why Adam and Eve hide from YHWH*).
It did not surprise me when I read a theory that YHWH may have originally been worshiped as a storm god (hence the constant struggles against Baal, the Canaanite storm god). Storms are strong and mighty. No human force can stop them. If there was ever a symbol of divine majesty and power, the storm would be it.
Whenever I feel like I am trying to tame God, I think of the storm.
Actually, that’s not true. I first think of C.S. Lewis’ descriptions of Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia: “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good” and “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
But, then, I hear the words of YHWH rumbling from the whirlwind:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements — surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? (Job 38:4-5 NRS)
Hearing these words (and the rest of the final smack-down God gives to Job) reminds me that I can only reach so far; I can’t touch the clouds or the thunder. Some things are just too big for me. And I’m quite alright leaving them up to God.
*Originally, Hebrew was written with only consonants, no vowels. Around the year 1000 CE, the Masoretes created “pointing” symbols to indicate what vowel sounds went where. However, they intentionally did not add pointing to the Divine name out of respect and reverence for the name. To this day, the vowels are left out of YHWH when it is written in Hebrew, and it is never pronounced out loud by pious Jews, instead substituting “Adonai”, which we translate into English as “the LORD”.