As I write this article, it is early on a Thursday afternoon when I would normally be engaged with 8th grade students (at The Geneva School) in conversation about the Gospel of Mark (I know this because my phone keeps reminding me I should be in Room 110 right now). But on this day, I am quite literally enjoying “the calm before the storm” – sitting on my front porch with a nice breeze awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. The early bands should arrive in a couple of hours – I see them on my Doppler radar app on my phone. The predictions are dire. We expect damage, loss of power and who knows what else? Wait . . . God knows! And that is a comforting thought. But allow me a few rambling (and perhaps disconnected thoughts) as the eye of the storm barrels up our Florida coastline.
First, I put the word “storms” into a word search in my ESV Bible app earlier today – only one verse came up, but it was spot on!
“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by” (Psalm 57:1).
David wrote this while under duress, hiding in a cave as Saul sought to destroy him. So we see that while, at this moment, our community faces a literal “storm of destruction,” this is also a strong and apt metaphor for life. All of us face “storms of life” at various times. Some we see brewing from afar. We can try to prepare for these – at least to some degree, but we know they are coming and sometimes, preparation notwithstanding, they bring damage and destruction; sometimes, they just scare the bejabbers out of us and roll on by.
Other storms can catch us by surprise – flash floods in life so to speak. We don’t see them coming and they knock us sideways and take our feet out from under us. Still other storms in life seem to settle over us and pound away day after day, month after month; they never seem to let up. So we take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings and we cry out “Kyrie eleison!” And we trust God.
Second, with that in mind, it is good to be reminded that God is sovereign and we are not. Though our modern world whispers the lie that we are in control, the power of a Hurricane Matthew reminds us that there are many things beyond our control. We simply have to bow before such storms, hunker down, and hold on. Circumstances are often (in fact, usually) beyond our control – but our response to circumstance is something for which we are responsible. When “storms” blow, we can fold up, give in and/or give up; we can act foolishly, or blame others. Or we can do our best, stand by faith, band together with brothers and sisters in the faith, and carry on, trusting God that He knows the outcome. Mark Heard, a singer/song writer (who studied for a time under Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri) wrote, “In the eye of the storm” which included this chorus: “In this world, Thunder throbs in the darkness, Out in the eye of the storm, The friends of God suffer no permanent harm” (see lyrics below). Mr. Heard experienced this. At age 41 he suffered a heart attack and died six weeks later. But his theological reflection was right. No matter what storms assail us, as God’s children, we never, ever suffer “permanent” harm. And that too is a comforting thought.
Third, and finally, I am reminded today of William Cowper, his life and one hymn in particular: “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (see lyrics below). Cowper waged a life-long battle with depression and mental illness, but trusted deeply in the God of his salvation. Yes indeed, storms may come – and they are not the work of chaos and blind fate. They are instruments of God for the sanctifying and strengthening of His saints. Remember and reflect on this thought that the clouds we dread, that seem full of danger and destruction, ultimately break with blessing and mercy on those who fall upon Christ as their only hope in life and in death. And that too, of course, is a most comforting thought, even (and especially) in the “calm before the storm.”
“God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (William Cowper, 1773)
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines Of never failing skill He treasures up His bright designs And works His sov’reign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.
“In the Eye of the Storm” (Mark Heard, 1983)
When it’s dark outside you’ve got to carry a light Or you’ll stumble and fall like tumbling dice It takes a steady step, it takes God-given sight Just to tell what is the truth, what is wrong, what is right
Chorus: In this world, thunder throbs in the darkness Out in the eye of the storm The friends of God suffer no permanent harm
When the night sky glows with the red fires of war And the threat of annihilation pounds at your door You don’t have to pretend that you got nerves of steel To believe that the love of the Lord is actual and real (chorus)
When the daybreak comes with a trumpet blast And the true fruit of faith is tasted at long-last When the darkness dies and death is undone And teardrops are dried in the noonday sun (chorus).