The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. Psalm 29:3
I was born and reared not all that far from Lake Michigan’s cold, western shore, close enough at least, to be able to hear the way a fierce west wind made it anxious to flood its beaches, angry about being confined. I remember a story about a neighbor of mine, who, with his son, went out after king salmon, but found themselves in the middle of a storm that flipped their fishing boat as if it were cardboard. They had to be fished out of the lake themselves, and for awhile at least, they lost their taste for salmon.
Last summer on a sweet little northern Minnesota lake, I slipped out of our dark and silent cabin while my wife was asleep, climbed in a little aluminum Lund, and took off about a mile or so east, never all that far from shore, hoping for a walleye or two. A wind and a chop and even a breaker or two came up, and I high-tailed it back. That weightless little boat, heavy-laden with overweight me back there with the engine, threatened to come right back up over my head more than once in that wind, and I got scared.
From what little experience I’ve ever had, I think it safe to assume that what’s most horrific about storms on water is the sheer powerlessness one feels in the flexing palm of an outraged body of water. Stephen Crane’s old classic “The Open Boat,” is a study in human powerlessness.
Because I am a “can do” person, maybe too much so, nothing is more fearful or more humbling for me than to be confronted with something I can’t. Storms all too frequently create that kind of powerlessness out here on the plains. The wind’s howling can almost paralyze; there’s no switch to hit. In the face of storms, both literal and metaphoric, sometimes the only course of action is to sit and wait and pray.
And for some of us can-do types, having no switch really scary.
Maybe that’s especially so for the high-and-mighty who David addresses in this psalm. When your every wish is a command, the only voice more powerful is a monsoon or a hurricane. So much the worse if you’re on a ship.
Honestly, I can’t blame those scaredy-cat sailors for dumping Jonah into the stormy sea. In the grip of that monster storm, they thought to try every weapon in the arsenal to get relief. “Here, take Jonah,” they prayed, hoping for the god of the roiling waters would be appeased. People do almost-forgivable things when they’re desperate. We all do.
Verse three begins a ten-verse litany of extolling “the voice of the Lord,” specifically his awesome power in nature. Native people who lived with volcanic eruptions almost always identified some rapscallion deity in the bowels of the mountain. It’s hard not to, if for no other reason than the fact that nature’s wrath makes us all cower.
Even the kings of the earth. And that’s who David, himself a King, is addressing here; that’s who he’s singing to. Think about this, Presidents and Prime Ministers, he says—think about the way a tsunami shrugs off wealth or fortune. Think about being shaken down by something registering 8.3 on the Richter scale. Or how about this?—think about tornado alley (we have kids in Oklahoma).
You’re not so high and mighty. Remember that. In a minute, in the twinkling of an eye, God almighty has erased entire kingdoms. We all live in little aluminum fishing boats. Amid the roaring voice of the Lord, the best we can do is silence.