Embracing God’s Story All Around Us
I remember the first time it hit me; a moment of otherworldly grandeur intersecting my otherwise normal, everyday-sort-of life. My family was going to go see the Niagara Falls. I was a seven-year-old kid and we were living in Toronto, Canada at the time. The two hour car-ride was filled with curious questions by my older sister and I, and equally evasive answers by my parents. What was this place? Why did we have to go there?
The questions and answers that were circulating, stopped once we reached our destination. We were at the Niagara Falls on the Canadian side, looking over towards the American side. As a seven year old, wide-eyed kid, I’d never seen anything like it. Though the Niagara isn’t higher than a couple hundred feet, it’s very wide. There’s on average 4–6 million cubic feet of water that flow over the falls in a given minute. It’s a beautiful, immersive sight to behold.
From where we were standing, you could hear the mighty rush of the river breaking over the falls, and the pulverizing force of the water hitting the lower levels. Even when you are a ways off from the falls, you can still hear the rush and feel the mist. When you walk up to the lip of the river and look down over the falls, you begin to feel small. You realize the power and force of nature moving and swirling right there in front of you. It is entirely breathtaking, both in its beauty and its brawn. There is a transcendent wonder that is palpable as you stand there.
The first question that came out of my mouth was, “Who made this?” In my kid-mind, everything I had seen or experienced was made by someone. Somebody had to have made this, and it probably took them quite some time. My dad responded as my dad always would, “Ashish, no human being could have made this. Only God could have done this.” It took a while for those words to sink in. When I heard what he said, I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.
No human could have made this. Only God could make this.
Looking back on my dad’s words, it’s easy for me to overthink it now. It could have been some catastrophic event in human history; maybe some kind of glacier or rabid weather front. It could have been an earthquake that formed the Niagara Falls. We don’t exactly know how those falls were formed, and in the mystery of that unknown we often find our bearings by ascribing it to something outside human explanation.
Regardless of how and when it was formed, when you encounter the breath-taking sights and sounds of nature, you can’t help but assume that God was involved. I remember the incredible impression the Niagara Falls left on me: An expansive canvas of ferocious beauty, not created by human hands, out of our control, and yet possibly a touch of something or someone more.
The Red Sea
Moses was unsure of what to say or do. Everything he had said and done had brought him to this point. The people of Israel were facing the Red Sea ahead of them, and the advancing Egyptian army behind them. Here was a nation of slaves who had just been given their freedom, but were entirely unsure of what lay ahead.
They had left with great excitement and passion, seeing God do a great many miracles. Everything had seemed too good to be true, and now here they were, beyond scared. The people shouted out to Moses:
“Why did you bring us here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness.’”Exodus 14:11–12 NLT
Moses remembered the faithfulness of God. The God who saw a fugitive who ran from Egypt for murdering an Egyptian, who called out a wandering shepherd on the backside of the wilderness through a burning bush, who empowered a man with a stuttering problem to speak confidently to Pharaoh, and to an unlikely hero who would champion the cause of a slave people and see them walk out of Egypt with their freedom. Moses reflected on his personal journey and the Israelite nation’s journey and proclaimed:
“Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”Exodus 14:13–14 NLT
In a moment that should have paralyzed the Israelites and stopped them up to anything different, they began to respond to God’s leading. The cloud, which had led them by day, moved behind their camp; as night fell, the cloud turned into a blazing fire and kept the Egyptian army at bay.
God asked Moses to raise his shepherd’s staff over the Red Sea. As he did this, God created a path through the water for the Israelites to walk through. With walls of water on both sides of the path and Moses leading the people, the Israelites passed through the Red Sea and came up on the other side.
The fire by night that had kept the Egyptian army at bay now subsided, and they saw the Israelites making their way to the other side of the Red Sea, with walls of water on either side of the path they walked on. The Egyptian army began chasing after the Israelites driving straight through the path that God had created. Only now, what was a path to salvation, was now a grave of utter destruction. God caused their forces to be in total confusion, twisted their chariots and made it difficult to move.
Meanwhile the Israelites had reached over to the other side. God asked Moses to raise his staff over the sea again; as he did so, the waters rushed back over and covered the Egyptian army. The Egyptian army tried to escape, but couldn’t; not a single soldier survived.
On that day, a slave people saw their God rule over the Egyptian gods.
The God of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was at work for them, on their behalf. Their oppressors nowhere to be found, they were redeemed and called out. A people broken and unloved, now being made whole and at the center God’s undeserved grace and abundant kindness.
Our New Arrival
It was October 31st, 2013. My wife was in heavy labor for a good part of the late afternoon and evening, and we were now into the first hour of the next day, midnight. We were expectantly awaiting our new arrival. Through the whole pregnancy, we had chosen to not know if we were having a boy or girl. We wanted it to be a surprise, and a surprise it absolutely was! For some unexplainable reason, we told ourselves that we were going to have a baby girl. And we had no reason to think otherwise.
It was now past midnight as my wife worked through the final steps of delivering our little one. I was encouraging and comforting her through the whole process. If I ever look back and remember that day, it was as if time had stood still for us. Everything else around us had stopped, and we were in this moment together. I can’t fully describe it for you, but it brought us together and knit our hearts together on an unreal level. We were going to be parents. Our first child was minutes away.
The moment finally did arrive, and though it felt like an eternity, we were finally here. Much to our surprise, we were the parents of a little baby boy. Seeing him for the first time, was a completely indescribable moment. It was a moment of exquisite beauty as we saw our beautiful little baby boy for the first time; but it was also a moment of excruciating pain in watching my wife’s intense struggle to give birth.
We were mesmerized by him. Here he was, our first born son. He would always have a special place in our hearts. We were proud parents, excitedly and naively ready to raise our little boy. And boy did we not know what we were getting into! There were sleep-deprived nights and times where we had no clue what to do; at times were were at the end of ourselves, unsure of how to proceed.
Through the ups and downs of parenting, I will never forget that first moment. It has left an indelible mark on me. When I look at him now, all of Brennan’s milestones and the steps that got him there, I see that that little baby boy I had the privilege of holding in my hands in those first moments of seeing him come into this world. I will never forget that day.
Echoes Of More
Moses now led the Israelites, his people, through the wilderness and hoped to enter the Promised Land with them one day. What should have been a short wilderness journey, turned into a forty year wandering.
As Moses would reflect on the salvation of the Israelites, and all that followed, he would codify it into the five distinct books of the Torah. He wrote with an audience in mind, a people who had lost their hope in God, but had now experienced God’s salvation. A people brought out from slavery and oppression into the freedom of God.
The Israelites had heard echoes of the divine in their numerous experiences. The Israelites saw a great empire fall to it’s knees as a result of God’s judgment, which led to their eventual freedom. An army that was chasing them, drowned in a sea in which the Israelites previously walked through. They saw the swift retribution of God when they worshipped a golden calf instead of the One who saved them.
Even in their fear of the Canaanites, which eventually led to their forty year wandering in the wilderness, they saw many signs and wonders. Bread and meat from heaven; shoes and clothes that somehow didn’t succumb to usual wear and tear; water that came out of rock and quenched their thirst. Even when the people were faithless, God remained faithful.
All of this and more, reminded the Israelites of their intersection with God’s story; this is who Moses was writing to. Their experiences provided the backdrop to Moses’ account of God’s creative work, echoes of the divine in the experiences of the children of Israel. He would begin in Genesis, the account of God’s creation:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.Genesis 1:1 NLT
What God begins, he sustains. There is a weightiness to all of life, in knowing God brought all things into being. What God initiates, he sustains, and what he sustains, he gives intention and identity to. To a slave-nation that did not fathom a beginning, this spoke of a God who was working with sober intention. It gave them a clear identity. When He called the Israelites out of slavery, He was calling out a people. He would begin and sustain in them the fulfillment of the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Something out of nothing; God creates while humans repurpose. We work with what already is, while God creates something from what never was. To a people who had forgotten the promise of God to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this revealed a God who fundamentally cared for and set into motion the whole of Creation. Moses reminds them, that all of life is an extension of that God-reality. God’s inherent involvement in what He creates is apparent.
The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.Genesis 1:2 NLT
What was without purpose and uninhabitable, a lifeless, desert-wasteland; what was surrounded by pervasive, isolating waters, God looks upon and sends His Spirit. The wind of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. The Israelites who read this account are reminded of that day in the desert, with the Red Sea ahead and the advancing Egyptian army behind. What had seemed hopeless and close-to-death, provided a backdrop to the wind of God’s Spirit that eventually made a way where their was no way.
That miraculous moment was a clear echo back to that ancient moment, where God created something from what was uncreated.
What seems ominous and dark, God ruled over. In what seemed like a lifeless void, God was present and working behind the scenes. What seemed like a dead end, God’s Spirit was hovering above. The creative force of God’s power and ability was at work in the Creation story. To a people who were once dominated and oppressed, who now were experiencing the freedom and revolution of God, they could see the correlations to their journey. To a people who wanted to go back to being slaves instead of pushing forward into God’s future, they were reminded that God was creating something out of what was uncreated in them.
As you read Moses’ account of Creation, you have to remember the fledgling nation he is writing to. A people who were embracing their identity and place in the world, accepting that God was for them, and worked on their behalf. Their echoes of the divine speak to us today. As we recount the intersection of God’s story with a slave people, we remember that first intersection of God’s story with our own.
Moses nearing the end of his life after years of leading the Israelites, sang a song to the people. It wasn’t your average song with happy melodies and feel-good lyrics. It was a sober, gut-wrenching, heart-rending, honest song. It looked backward to God’s blessing and favor, but also looked forward to pain and suffering of God’s judgment. It was the double-edged sword of what would happen if they either followed or ignored God.
If there was a picture in how God works in our lives, it would be described by a few of the lines in Moses’ song:
For the people of Israel belong to the Lord; Jacob is his special possession. He found them in a desert land, in an empty, howling wasteland. He surrounded them and watched over them; he guarded them as he would guard his own eyes. Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young, so he spread his wings to take them up and carried them safely on his pinions.Deuteronomy 32:9–11 NLT
Life is filled with moments that go beyond or above us. There are trials of great sorrow laced with incredible pain, and times of otherworldly imagination intertwined with wonderful new realities. The depth and breadth of the human experience, the variety of interactions, all give way to moments that can only described as divine.
Those moments include the depths and heights of human emotion and feeling. The recognition that there is something else going on in our moments, a sense of something or someone more holding all those experiences together. It’s an unreal and immaterial sensation, but weighty and real all the same.
We would describe these moments as the handprint of God over our stories. It is the paintbrush of the divine upon the canvas of our stories. There is something else going on, a narrative that we don’t quickly see, but hiding just below the surface. It calls out to us and asks us come, listen, feel, and live again. These moments find us overwhelmed and aware of God at work behind the scenes.
Even when we are unaware, ignorant or unsure, we can be sure that God is working, that God is for us, that God is our God. Just like the Israelites we are a people who have been saved from slavery to sin and brokenness and suffering. Through Jesus’ work in Cross and Resurrection and the Spirit’s work in Pentecost, we now live in the reality of God at work in our lives. Where was once a dry, desert wasteland, God now is remaking in us life and hope and joy. What was uncreated in our lives, God now creates and sets up as new and life-giving.
May we recognize God at work in us, through us, and around us. May we live this life surprised by the intersection of God’s story in ours. May we live wide-eyed in wonder, as we notice and respond to God’s direction and lead for our lives. May we embrace the echoes of the divine all around us.