“The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice;
Let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around.
His lightnings light up the world;
The earth sees and trembles,
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
Before the LORD of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
And all the peoples see his glory.”
-Psalm 97:1-6 ESV

I used to love storm watching with my dad. Just as one was beginning to brew, we would take our seats on the back porch swing. My brothers were in the house building model airplanes or some such brother activity, and my mom, who like her mother was terrified of storms, would never dream of stepping outside. This was strictly Daddy-daughter time, and I cherished it. Dad would point out the signs: “Do you see how the underside of the leaves are turning upward? Can you feel the rumble of distant thunder?” The anticipation was electric because when it began, we knew we would experience God’s awesome power in all its splendor. What a spectacle!

I was reminded of those times last month when we experienced a total eclipse of the sun. I had witnessed several throughout my life and had not planned to acknowledge this one. My to do list was long and my hours short. I cannot say what changed my mind—perhaps a whisper from the Holy Spirit saying, “You are not going to want to miss this. Watch and see!” And so, I did. I had been preparing dinner in my kitchen. Birdsong—one of my favorite sounds—floated through the open windows. As the time for the eclipse approached, I stepped out onto the deck, donned my cardboard eclipse-watching glasses, and glanced up. There was significant cloud cover that day, but it was moving quickly enabling intermittent clear glimpses of the sun. I glanced at the birdfeeders hanging from a nearby tree. Lots of traffic but the sweet birdsong had evolved into frantic chatter. Nature was sounding the alarm. Something was coming. The temperature dropped, bringing with it a strong cool breeze as the light faded to dusky gray. And there was something else. Silence. A quick glance to my right revealed the birdfeeders hanging lifelessly without a customer in sight. There was an eerie stillness, as if all of Creation held its breath as the moon danced its graceful ballet across the sun. The crescendo ended as quickly as it began, and with that, nature resumed its melodic symphony.

Charles H Spurgeon, in The Treasury of David, claims that “Inanimate nature knows its Creator, and worships him in its own fashion.” I believe this to be true and that important lessons can be learned from it. Just as in nature, personal storms and phenomena occur. If God would build an innate sense of vigilance and anticipation into Creation, would He withhold it from His image bearers? Surely not.

We travel through life via whatever “normal” happens to be for us. We reside in birdsong. Eventually, a sense of foreboding springs up. Anticipation peaks. This is the frantic chatter phase that nature recognizes, but we often miss while lost in our preoccupations. By the time we acknowledge our pinging “storm” radar it is already raging. We react, thrashing against the wind and the cold and the slicing rain. This is us spiritually wrestling with our circumstance. We may even rail against God. We want our normal back, but it’s getting dark, and the water is rising. Ironically, Creation does not experience this phase because it intrinsically submits to God’s power. A lesson we must learn.

Next, we find ourselves enveloped in stillness and calm. Our beating the air has ceased but the storm is far from over. We are in the eye of it, and Abba is carrying us. Whether we have given up or given in, there is no more fight in us. There is no need. From the first turned up leaf, it was always His plan to carry us through. But make no mistake: Though we are sheltered under His wing, He allows us to fully feel the stinging rain and the buffeting wind. It is then that we nestle closer to His bosom. In time, the storm passes, and we emerge either in heaven or somewhere other than where we stood when it first began. Either way we do not return to the way we were. That would defeat the purpose.

God gave me a very personal illustration of this recently:

I was at my daughter Kati’s home to pick up Uma Rose, my toddler granddaughter, for a day of play. Kati was standing at the top of the stairs, I was at the bottom near the door gathering coats, and Uma Rose was somewhere in between holding the railing as she navigated the steps with mommy coaching from above. This is something Uma does regularly with great mastery but on this day, she was wearing her silver sparkly “pretty shoes.” The heel caught on one of the carpeted steps, and she tumbled down, hitting her head on the uncarpeted landing. She wailed. Kati and I ran, checked her out and scooped her up. She cried so hard that she couldn’t catch her breath and passed out in my arms. This is an unwelcome family tradition: Kati did it as a child and so did I. The crying stopped the instant she passed out, and she began to breathe again, but not before it took a year off Kati’s (and my) life. As Uma Rose regained consciousness she collapsed even further into my arms and let me carry her to a safe spot. She cried a little more as mommy and I consoled and inspected her again. She had a bump on her head but seemed more frightened than hurt. With the promise of a cake pop she perked up and resumed her bouncy, giggly, girly activities. However, she was not unchanged by the experience. As I watched her descend the stairs the next time (sans the “pretty shoes”) she walked very slowly, carefully holding on to the railing and announcing, “I’m walking down the stairs.” She was reminding herself and us that something scary had happened and that she had grown because of it. Do you see the transitions? She thrashed. She went still. She nestled closer. She emerged changed.

Psalm 97:1-6 has long been one of my favorite pictures of God’s glory and might, and for some reason, a storm always brings it to mind. I especially love the wording in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible):

“The Lord is king! Let the earth exult, the many islands rejoice! Dense clouds are around Him, righteousness and justice are the base of His throne. Fire is His vanguard, burning His foes on every side. His lightnings light up the world; the earth is convulsed at the sight; mountains melt like wax at the Lord’s presence, at the presence of the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim His righteousness and all peoples see His glory.”

I still love watching storms although the seat next to me has been vacant for many years now. I listen for Dad’s voice and am less afraid. If an earthly father can offer such comfort through the storm how much more will we receive from our Heavenly Father?

Let Creation be an example to us as it submits to the Creator. Storms are beautiful movements that take us through highs and lows, teaching us sweet and painful notes that our ears have never heard. They are the hand of God moving powerfully across the heavens as the Great Conductor. All of Creation is the orchestra and we, His image bearers, the audience. Nestle into His bosom. Do not thrash. Though there is rough weather ahead He will always carry us through.