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 and angry about being confined. Once upon a time, a neighbor of mine went out after king salmon with his son, but they 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 some time 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 half mile or so east, never all that far from shore, hoping for a walleye or two. A wind and a chop and even a little breaker or two came up, so 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—I mean, scared.
What’s most horrific about storms on water—or, in water, as we learned again this week--is the sheer powerlessness one feels. 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 do. Maybe a month ago, hail rode along with gigantic winds and had the two of us cowering, scared to death it was going to take out windows. Most any time of year, the wind’s howling can paralyze you; there’s no on/off switch to hit.
Maybe that’s especially so for the high-and-mighty, the potentates David addresses in this psalm. When your every wish is a command, the only voice you can’t shush is a monsoon. So much the worse if you’re on a ship.
I can’t blame those scaredy-cat sailors for dumping Paul into the stormy sea. In the grip of that monster storm, they tried every last weapon in the arsenal to get relief. “Here, take Paul,” they prayed, scape-goating, hoping for the god of the roiling waters would be appeased. People do almost unforgivable 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 because it’s hard not to when all we can do is cower.
Think about this, Presidents and Prime Ministers, he says: think about the way a tsunami shrugs off ostentation. Think about being shaken down by 8.3 on the Richter scale. Consider, o high-and-mighty, an F-5.