The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
-Psalm 29:3-4 (NRSV)
Like most folks who have lived a while, my grandmother had some great stories. She loved to tell them, too - with a twinkle in her eye and a lilt in her voice. Many of them were funny. Some were touching. Some were a little of both. But one of my favorites involved a flood.
As I remember the story, when she was around 10 a flood wiped out their house in Georgia. What wasn't swept away was ruined by the water and the mud that it left behind -- mud that she said came to above her knees in some places. I remember her saying, three quarters of a century later, that she'd never forget the look on her mother's face as they went back into the house for the first time since they had been forced to leave and found virtually everything they owned destroyed.
Anyway, after they had been there a little while, poking through the aftermath, my great-grandmother suddenly began looking around, almost panicky. "Gen! Gen!" she said to my grandmother. "Do you see the Bible?" They had a very nice, very expensive Bible, my grandmother explained, that sat on a wooden library stand. It was likely one of the most expensive things they owned, come to think of it, and my great-grandfather always insisted that the Bible be returned to that stand after anyone read it. After the flood, neither Bible nor stand was in its customary place.
So they searched for a while, digging through mud and assorted belongings, but had no luck. The Bible and its stand had presumably been swept away.
I didn't think to ask what caused my grandmother to look up, but finally she did. "Mama, Mama!" she shouted. "I found the Bible!" She pointed to the ceiling, where stuck in the rafters was the Bible -- still on its library stand. Apparently, the rising waters had picked up the stand and its cargo and carried it up as it rose until it lodged in the rafters.
The Bible, my grandmother always finished, was barely damp. It circulated among her and her sisters for a while. I think my mom might have it now.
The point practically writes itself, doesn't it?
Decades later, my grandmother carried that story with her, locked in the most secure vaults of her memory. There was a reason for that. Her health' wasn’t good, really for much of her life. As she aged, she forgot more and more. Toward the very end of her life, on bad days she’d get very confused and agitated. But she held onto that story. One of the last times I saw her, in fact, she told me again, and even added some details I’d never heard before. Maybe so I could tell it better after she was gone?
She held on to that story because it reminded her that there is something that can't be swept under by a flood, that remains when everything else you've come to depend on is gone. She had to let go of a lot during her lifetime. People she loved. A house she lived in for decades. Independence. Mobility. By the end, the floodwaters of age and disease and time had washed through her life and had taken so much away from her by the time they receded. She had to do a lot of searching, I think, a lot of poking through mud and wreckage to find whatever was salvageable. But when she raised her eyes, she always saw the one thing that the floodwaters can't touch.
Oh, we all know why that Bible floated on its stand. We all know the principles of buoyancy that kept it safe from the water. But the story's just a reminder, really, a parable. There's no real permanency in leather and paper and ink, of course. But the psalmist said it well: "The voice of the LORD is over the waters." To him, the sea was the great unknown. A place of unfathomable terror, unknowable mystery. To the pagans around him, the sea was the realm of evil spirits, even a god itself. Monsters lurked in its depths. But even the sea held no terror for the psalmist, because God's voice thundered over it. God commanded it, made it recede to create dry land for human beings to live on. "The LORD sits enthroned over the flood," he went on. When God speaks, even the sea must listen. Even its monsters must be still in reverence for their king. Even its waves must cease and its floods recede. "The LORD gives strength to his people" is the poet's conclusion. "The LORD blesses his people with peace."
It's hard to have peace when everything you've come to trust in is gone. It's hard to have peace when you're vulnerable, when even your own body begins to fail you. Maybe you know very well how peace eludes you when the floods come and what you know and love and trust and assume is lost. If not, one day you will. One day you'll be shocked to find your world ravaged and nothing left. When you do, I hope you'll turn your eyes upward. Oh, sure, search through the wreckage of what you've known. Save what you can. But then when you're out of hope, look up. What you'll see is that God is still there, that his voice still commands the floods to recede.
God's word remains: not a dead book of paper and ink, but the living, powerful voice of the living powerful God who still rescues, still delivers, still saves. His voice is not silenced by the things that terrify you; he shouts above their roar and they duck their heads in fear and awe. He's not lost in the cataclysms that take away the things and people we so depend on; he's above those cataclysms, faithful and true. And when even our bodies and minds fail, when our lives are narrowed to a hospital bed or even a casket, he still speaks words of life and hope and promise.
His voice spoke in the tomb of Jesus, and it will speak in your own tomb as well. You will open your eyes in the one place where everyone is truly alone and find that you never really were. And if not there, then surely not anywhere.
God's word remains when everything else is gone. Nothing that you have, no one that you know, no dream you dream is lasting enough to support the weight of your faith. When it washes away, you'll be adrift. But God's word is untouched by disaster, unchanged by the shifting shadows of the world. His promises will always stand. However terrifying the floods may be, his voice still rises above them and still they must listen.
Don't try to live without flood insurance.