Monday, August 9, 2010

The God Who Thunders

The storm. What do you see? What does it signify for you? In this storm, billowed up after sunset over the Black Range, I saw a great lesson in hermeneutics.

Great sky-mountains like this storm should take our minds back to places like 2 Samuel 22:2-51//Psalm 18:2-50, where we see the LORD flexing His mighty right arm on behalf of His anointed, David. This is great stuff. "He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him, darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds..." This is the God Who showed up to battle on behalf of the shepherd boy who was going to be King, who was of the line of the blessing of Abraham, who was a picture of the coming King of kings, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of David. This is a God we'd all like to have show up on our behalf in times of trouble.

Look at the introduction to this Psalm: "David spoke the words of this son to the LORD in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul" (2 Samuel 22:1). Okay. Let's read the historical narrative of this event (1 Samuel 23:15-24:22; 26:1-27:12). Wait. Did you see the storm clouds of heaven? Neither did I. So what's going on here? Was David just exaggerating? A bit of bravado around the campfire after escaping the wrath of the king's insanity? That doesn't seem to reflect David's character. So what do we do with this?

Two options for the faithful Bible interpreter come to mind (there are probably more options, but these two seem most appropriate to me).

  • This is a vision given to the one who would be king-yet-prophet. Similar to Isaiah's vision of the heavenly throne room superimposed on the earthly temple (Isaiah 6). So, is it "real"? Not to get into ontology, but wouldn't the God Who created all things, though He is Spirit, be more "real" than all the stuff He created? While the material world is most real from our perspective, isn't the perspective of God the one that will ultimately be shown to be correct? I'm not saying that the material world is an illusion; I'm just saying we need to consider whose perspective we're going to use when viewing the world or considering contrasts between historical narratives and prophetic descriptions of events. In this case, both are true, faithful to the events, and utterly real. David saw aspects of the events through eyes of faith, with a vision given him by the grace and gifting of God.
  • I don't know how different this second option is, but...I would suggest that the faithful people of God always see God in all things as they are occurring. We may not all see thunderstorms in the events of our moments and days, but we still see God involved in everything. "God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom, upholds, directs, disposes and governs all creatures and things, from the greatest to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, to the end for which they were created...God, in His ordinary providence makes use of means, yet He is free to work outside, above, and against them at His pleasure" (Baptist Confession of 1689, 5.1,3). There is nothing that happens that does not have God's sovereign hand in it. As David was going through the events described in the historical narrative, in his spirit he discerned the storming God moving the events around him and through him to God's ultimate GLORY and honor. Later, singing of this sense he had throughout those days, the feeling in his spirit was best described as the unstoppable storm of the LORD.

Paul, in Colossians 3:3 (New Living Translation), tells the Church that "your real life is hidden with Christ in God." Whether in the difficulties (like Isaiah's leper-king Uzziah dying in 6:1) or the joys (David's reflections on God's deliverance), they would both confess: "The whole earth is filled with His glory!" (Isaiah 6:3). So will all believers who keep the "eyes of their heart" (Ephesians 1:18) focused upward on the ultimate, everlasting reality of God Himself.

This definitely should have implications for our interpretation of other "vision" passages, especially those that involve storms and clouds. Many times the approaching clouds of judgment are stylized visions of the dust kicked up by a massive army on the march (always being brought by the sovereign hand of God to judge His peoples for their spiritual infidelity). Sometimes the storms described in visions show us the power and wrath of God against sin. Still, we should be cautious about asserting a non-biblical, rigid "literalism" that insists on physically manifested storm clouds while ignoring how the Hebrew-speaking peoples thought and expressed themselves. Some days God was working the deliverance of David from Saul were, no doubt, sunny days. But in the surpassing spiritual reality, He was storming mightily on behalf of His anointed, and moving the events of human history to ultimately reveal salvation in Jesus Christ. He's still doing this: "He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purpose in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the the earth" (Ephesians 1:9,10).

His glory fills the whole earth, even the parts where you will live and move and breathe today. Sometimes He will be a gentle breeze, but sometimes He will billow up and thunder...and all to draw you closer to His Son.