“Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendour.
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.
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king for ever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!”
(Read all of Psalm 29)
Sometimes they also put difficult feelings and ideas together. In Psalm 29’s case, we have two very important things about God put side by side. One, that God is ultimately powerful; and, two, that God is ultimately loving. We all know that about God, it’s what we’re taught, it’s a big “duh,” so we don’t often separate those two ideas. But I truly believe humans have a hard time letting those two things live together in the same space, God’s great power and great love. Let me explain.
When something is extremely powerful, can we agree that it can be intimidating? Psalm 29 uses this storm-like language to describe God’s voice, so have you ever been intimidated by the weather, by nature? When I was little and my parents went out on a date, there was a woman they would get to babysit and do cleaning around the house named Rosa. She was a stout-hearted African American woman, with a strong faith, and was just awesome. But when it came to storms, lightning or thunder, guess what she made my brother, sister, and I do? We had to sit down on the couch (one of us per cushion), be quiet, get our feet up off the floor, and turn off the TV. So we prayed together, “Lord, why oh why did it have to storm on this night, when my favorite show is on, and Rosa is here?!” I’d say she was just slick and trying to keep us all quiet and still at the same time, but she was a faithful lady so I do believe it was really that she saw the storm as God being up to something, and something worth showing reverence, not time to run around acting the fool as usual.
In some ways I think that was a good, healthy reverence to God, but at the same time there was the added sense of anxiety, or intimidation, that if we weren’t quiet enough or respectful enough or behaving right, then God might zap somebody. It could, in a little way, put some doubt upon God’s loving nature. That goes deeper in the case of someone like a man that my wife told me about. She worked with a woman whose husband, she said, would go and hide in a closet every time a thunderstorm swept through. True story. This is a grown man, and oftentimes he would have his wife join him there. But my wife learned when this man was a boy, his grandmother was struck by lightning and killed, and so it all seems more reasonable. He was all too familiar with the potency behind the storm, the true power and its danger. I wonder how he or his family would read Psalm 29, and how it would feel to hear the voice of God described like lightning. Could that be a loving God? It’s tough to deal with.
Then, maybe you’ve seen the story of a Kentucky woman whose town was caught in a tornadic storm, and as the funnel cloud starts to form right above her house, she prays fervently to God against it. Watch it here:
That’s gnarly stuff. I’m not personally certifying her as a miracle-worker, but it’s clear to see that her prayer worked, and that’s how she made CNN. Now, that’s one of the nice stories of God’s mighty power, because it works out for this woman as it appears God has heard her cries and acted on her behalf. We like that big power when it works on our behalf. But it’s telling because the flip-side of the story is that we don’t feel so great when God doesn’t seem to hear prayer, or act on our behalf, or have the power to help us. Great power, in that case, seems uncontrollable, or uncertain, or hard to count on. As a matter of fact, that same storm went on to produce tornado activity a few miles to the East that hit another town, caused huge destruction and killed several. So we wonder how feel about this power we see around us, and it’s hard to deal with.
Where did ‘perfect’ go?
That’s why I say it’s hard to hold up God’s unfathomable power beside God’s unfathomable love. In the case of the folks in the town that did get hit by the tornado, or in the case of your own life in all the suffering and hard times you’ve felt, these are occasions to doubt one of those two qualities of God. On the one hand we doubt God’s power and ask, “Is God just not strong enough to do something about this?” Or on the other hand we doubt God’s love and ask, “God, are you able but just not willing to do something about this? Do you just not care?” We say to ourselves, “If God is COMPLETELY powerful and if God is COMPLETELY loving, then shouldn’t our lives be PERFECT?” A big question.
And Psalm 29 doesn’t really answer those questions, it just puts the two ideas side by side. How can it? Well, we need to consider that this is a Psalm of David, and that if it was written by him then we must accept that David was more than just the giant-slayer and king. This was someone who knew suffering like you or I never will. He spent most of his life running for his life, fleeing both his own people/king and those of his enemies, simultaneously. He spent most of his life sleeping in the dirt and in caves, and starving half to death. Even after he’s king, we know he gets caught up adultery, conspiracy, murder; he loses an infant child and is involved in the death of an older son who has tried to steal his throne; and we could go on.
How to deal
Read David’s story, and note his suffering, and then see that he still writes a psalm like this that puts God’s love and God’s power side by side. He didn’t explain it exactly, he just said, essentially, “Let me tell you what I know to be true about God… let us, together, ascribe to the Lord what is true of the Lord. I have seen and I know God’s power and majesty and might, beyond the shadow of a doubt. The best way, the only way I can describe it, is to use this language of the most powerful things on earth, lightning, earthquake, and *BOOM*. But at the very same time, I know God to love me dearly. To love us. To give us peace, and strength, and blessings as our great King.” David just puts those things there, together, and asks us to deal with it.
Wrapping up today, I think that has to be okay for us. We have to be okay with hanging on to what we know to be true of God, even when it’s hard to reconcile or connect. In part because it might just be that we haven’t discovered the connection yet. After all, for King David the great connection between God’s immeasurable love and power was yet to come; God’s greatest act of deliverance and grace was in the works, and it was going to redeem every ounce of death and suffering that creation had known or would ever know. For us, it’s what our faith rests on most — the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, whom we call the Lord of Life. In him there is no room to doubt either the depth of God’s love or the measure of God’s power, or the way that God moves both constantly on our behalf. That is the straight, simple truth.