The Lord reigns! Let the earth rejoice! Clouds and thick darkness are all around the Holy One. Fire goes before the Lord, consuming adversaries on every side. God’s lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord. – Psalm 97:1-5 excerpts (NRSV)
“God is sovereign,” writes the psalmist, and my spirit celebrates:
Go God! Show off that holy power!
“Tremble before God’s lightning,” the psalmist calls, and my spirit hesitates:
Um, God? I’ve been working on my spiritual strength, not my spiritual trembling.
“God is unlimited throughout creation, and God prevails above all.”
Hooray! Take that, other gods! God is the best!
And then the invitation: “Melt like wax before God’s throne. Behold God’s cover of fire and thick clouds.”
Oh dear. Riding the coattails of holy triumph is much more glorious than melting wax. Must the clouds be thick and ominous? Can we change that scenery to rainbows and unicorns, green pastures and still waters?
I know God’s ways are not my ways – God knows, I know it! – but it still throws me for a loop, every now and again, to be reminded that God is a storm as often as God is a silence. That God is an eruption as often as God is a stillness. That God is turmoil and wildness as often as God is rest and grace.
To the extent that I draw strength from God’s grace, I must also regularly draw humility from God’s ferocity.
As much as I cheer on God to triumph over evil, I must also tremble before God’s consuming fire.
And when I am tempted (maybe you’ve been tempted too) to want God’s fire to show up in the world in certain ways, with a certain decorum, with restrained politeness and a kind word to soften the blow, I remember again how much I really don’t understand the untamed, unrelenting, unencumbered character of God.
Holy Riot, Unfettered Ruckus, be a storm to our lethargy. A disruption to our righteousness. A shout to our hesitation.
Rachel Hackenberg serves on the national staff for the United Church of Christ. She is the author of Writing to God and the co-author of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, among other titles. Her blog is Faith and Water.