+In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I’ve spoken before I think more than once about the significance of water in the cultures of the ancient near east.
On the one hand, the dependence of humanity on water for drink, for agriculture, for hygiene and for transport is obvious enough. And thinking about the specific geography of the ancient near east, there were the lands around the great rivers – the Nile, the Tigris and the Euphrates – which thanks to technologies of irrigation were able to sustain some of the oldest civilisations. And there were the mountainous areas, such as much of the land of Israel, in which a decent enough living could be made from the land as long as the rains came when they were expected.
But on the other hand, water was also feared; there were many stories of great floods, such as the story of Noah. Ancient civilisations based on the great rivers could be overwhelmed by flood waters. And the sea was not where you went on holiday, but rather something to be feared, a vast and unruly expanse full of strange and terrifying creatures, in whose depths lurked that Leviathan. It was the task of a designated god, or in the case of monotheistic Israel simply the task of God, both to ensure the timely provision of rain, and to defend the earth from being overwhelmed by the vast waters that were believed to be both below and above it.
And so in Psalm 29 the people of Israel sing the praises of God as the one who subdues the waters. The voice of the Lord, imagined as great thunder claps, booms across the mighty waters, breaking the trees, making the mountains skip, and shaking the wilderness. The outcome of this great battle between the voice of God and untamed water, amongst the most unruly of the forces of creation, is that the Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the voice of the Lord has brought order and calm to creation. And not only to creation, but specifically to God’s people, who enjoy peace and strength because of the Lord’s victory, enjoying the fruits of the orderly succession of the seasons.
The news of the last week, as much as just about any other week in human history, has reminded us that there are other sources of chaos and disorder in the world. Flood and drought of course still threaten, but as well as the impersonal forces of natural disaster, there are the more sinister actions of human beings: there are times when we use our God-given skill and intelligence for the glory of God and the common good, but there are also times when we put the considerable resources of our minds to damaging and harmful ends. And there are times when we perhaps wish that the voice of the Lord would thunder across the dark and deep waters of human sin, that the voice of the Lord would silence the haughty and the proud and the dishonest, and bring human affairs to a just and godly order. But that is not how God chooses to deal with us.
In the religious imagination of the psalmist the Lord reduces the impersonal forces of nature to order by the power of His voice. But in dealing with humanity, made in God’s image, God takes a very different approach: the voice of the Lord which thunders over the deep waters is revealed in Jesus Christ not only as the voice but as the Word. Human beings, made in God’s image, are addressed not with thundering power, but with the Word, with reason, with the logic and the light and the life that underpins the whole creation. We are addressed by the Word of God, eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds, true God of true God, being of one substance with the Father. This Word of God does not thunder commands at us from the sky; rather, the Word is made flesh and dwells amongst us, full of grace and truth.
And Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, takes on the forces of evil that lurk like that Leviathan in the deep waters of the human heart. The victory that is won is unexpected, even paradoxical. The voice of the Lord may cause the oaks to whirl, but the Word of God made flesh is nailed to a tree. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up… God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.
In the religious imagination of the psalmist, the voice of the Lord brings order to the unruly forces of creation, and, through that order, peace and strength and fruitfulness to God’s people. And so too through the passion and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and through His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension, the unruly forces of the human heart are defeated, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit are bestowed upon God’s people. And through the power of that same Spirit the Church has come to understand in the teaching of the whole of the Holy Scriptures a revelation of God as the Holy and Undivided Trinity, three persons and one God, +Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to whom be all praise, honour and glory, now and unto ages of ages. Amen.