Yahweh is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries. ~Nahum 1:7-8
Full disclosure: I’m a weather nerd. As a teacher in Maryland—a state just far enough north to get snow, but just far enough south that it never knows what to do with it—snow days are one of the great delights of my life. From November to March, I’m a full-blown amateur meteorologist. I don’t just listen to the news to get the forecast; I follow weather blogs and pore over the raw satellite and model data, all in the never-ending quest for a snow day. So yeah, I’m a major weather nerd.
My passion for meteorology started when I was a kid. I was especially fascinated with hurricanes. My dad and I always talked about spending a summer “hurricane hunting;” i.e., being those crazy people driving towards a storm when everyone else was evacuating. We never got around to it, although to this day we still talk about driving south when a hurricane is in the news.
Just to be clear; I do have a healthy respect for hurricanes and am not completely nuts. I lived on the beach of a small South Pacific island through two hurricanes, and experienced Superstorm Sandy in 2012 as it wreaked havoc in the Mid-Atlantic. I remember Hurricane Andrew’s devastation unleashed on South Florida, and I watched the news along with everybody else as Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, claiming over a thousand lives. I know better than to be reckless with a hurricane. They are not storms to be messed with.
And yet I still love hurricanes. They are awe-inspiring, formidable, ferocious monsters, the biggest and most powerful storms on the planet. There is something exhilarating about standing on the beach leaning into the strongest wind you’ve ever felt in your life, feeling the warm rain stinging your face, watching bands of black clouds whip through the sky.
I think hurricanes are a great metaphor for what God is like, and especially for what it means to fear the God of grace. Hurricanes are dangerous and beautiful, life-taking and life-giving, immense and furious—and yet deep inside the spinning wind and waves lies a calm, safe center. The only way to truly be safe in a hurricane is to stay in the very heart of the storm, the eye of the hurricane. That center, the eye of the hurricane, is a perfect picture for what it’s like to live in relationship with the God of the universe.
Look at how Psalm 29 paints a picture of this hurricane-like God:
The voice of Yahweh is over the waters; the God of glory thunders. The voice of Yahweh is powerful; the voice of Yahweh is full of majesty… The voice of Yahweh flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of Yahweh shakes the wilderness… The voice of Yahweh makes the oaks to shake and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
God is like a hurricane, a ferocious storm of holiness and justice. He is the Self-Existent I Am of Exodus 34, who flashes forth in glory and who will by no means clear the guilty tramplers of that glory. He is, as Deuteronomy 4:24 states, and Hebrews 12:29 reaffirms, “a consuming fire, a jealous God.” The prophet Nahum paints a picture of the wrath of God breaking on this world like a hurricane of fire:
The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it. Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. Yahweh is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries. ~Nahum 1:5-8
In that vivid picture of our hurricane God, did you notice the strange insertion of mercy and safety into the raging storm of justice and wrath? “Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire!” Nahum declares. And yet, right in the middle of the hurricane, there is the eye of the storm, a place of safety: “Yahweh is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.”
Here’s the paradox yet again: the God of wrath who will by no means leave the guilty unpunished is the God of unfailing, steadfast love and mercy, and the only way to escape the wrath of God is to take shelter in the mercy of God. His mercy is a stronghold of safety from his wrath. The only ones who can endure the heat of his anger are those who flee to the eye of the storm and take refuge in him. God is the only one who can save you from God.
The solution to this paradox in the person of Jesus Christ. He is a sanctuary to those who trust him and a stone of stumbling to those who don’t. He is the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God, the One who absorbed wrath and forgives sin. His cross is the eye of the hurricane, the center of the wrath of God and the highest expression of the mercy of God. The place where the judgment of God broke into history and was poured out completely is the only place to find safety from that same judgment. In the violence of the cross we find safety; by his wounds we are healed.
The Christian life, then, is a life lived in the heart of the storm, in the place of safety from which we can stand in awe of God’s holiness and judgment and yet be safe from their destructive effects. Standing in the calm eye of his mercy, we see the wave of wrath break on Christ instead of us—a front row seat to the dangerous spectacle of God. It’s like watching an exciting, dangerous movie in the comfortable safety of a theater, or experiencing the thrill of falling while strapped safely into the roller coaster harness, or a little child taking the terrifying leap off the diving board into the waiting arms of their father; as ransomed Christ-followers we get to enjoy the danger of God while completely safe in the faithful love of God.
Are you enjoying the view? Or have you grown comfortable with our dangerous God? The Christian life, lived in the eye of the storm at the foot of the cross, is meant to be a continual drinking in of divine spectacle. Every day of the Christian life is designed to be a day of seeing afresh with new eyes—every time we open the Bible, every time we hear preaching, every time we worship, every time we fellowship with believers—how our sin has been obliterated by the hammer of God’s wrath and how the tender mercy of God has shone on us with undeserved kindness.
At the end of the day, this is what it means to fear God as a Christ-follower: to come to the cross for shelter from wrath and then stay there for all our days, marveling at the merciful and mighty God who has made us his forever. It means striving to be holy as he is holy and living in obedience at the foot of the cross in holy fear, knowing that we were ransomed undeservedly and at great cost. And it means a life lived on mission, inviting and pleading for others to come in from the storm before they are swept away forever.
May all our days at the foot of the cross be lived to prove the truth of promises like this:
Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you! ~Psalm 31:19