In The Flood: What We Do Understand When God’s Voice Thunders And We Don’t Understand

PTSD-like, I jolt upright, eyes saucer-wide in midnight’s strobing light. At a single crack, I’m on high alert, as the thunder rolls and the lightening strikes.

As the rain pours down, again.

Because it used to be that I’d snuggle cozy undercover in a thunderstorm, as the rain poured down. But that all changed last week. And I wonder, still I wonder who’ll stop the rain?

But I know the answer to that, and you know, too. We know who stops-and sends and makes lightenings for- the rain.

Yet I’m wide awake and wet with sweat and flashback to the flood that came last Wednesday morning. And I wonder, still I wonder, How long O Lord? Will it all begin again? And as I wonder,  these words, His Words, for one reason or another roll one to the next to mind. Some are hard words,  but all of them give comfort and courage and hope.

In wrath remember mercy, He does.

The cattle were saved. Huddled on high ground with flood water muzzle-high on the twin calves. Someone drove by at four and sent word to the farmers up the hill. Then, just before dawn came their deliverance.

As were the days of Noah. These days.

Yes, God’s Never again rainbow promise stands forever. But the Son of God said, They were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away.  And as the thunder rolls and the lightening strikes, I think how  I don’t want to be caught of guard.  He will come again.

For I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you. Jonah knew.

The storm you’re in isn’t always because of you,  Pastor had said the Sunday before the flood. The sailors on Jonah’s ship weren’t to blame for those waves. Which isn’t to say that in infinite love, God doesn’t  use floods and storms to shake us and shape us.

He sends rain on the just and the unjust. He does.

Carp crossed the road Wednesday morning and cars could not get out to take workers to work. Saints and sinners unsifted. Some were untouched. Some woke to water a foot deep on the ground floor of a home they might never wake up in again.

Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” We ought.

This wasn’t in any of our plans for Wednesday. I wasn’t planning to spend the rest of the week waging war with wetness, rolling carpets, pulling mats. Jim thought he’d be at work until that carp crossed the road. Yes, only if the Lord wills,

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood, He does.

And over the aftermath. Over the carpets and couches and boxes and bins and pads piled high around houses and in heaps beside the streets. And over the mold and the mildew and the bleach and the fans and gutted out basements in Burlington. Enthroned.

God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways. He does great things beyond our understanding, Elihu and Job knew.

But what happens when we hear God’s voice thunder, and cannot understand? Job heard and worshiped.  I stood in awe of the power that erodes roadsides and overflows dams in mere hours hours. We still call these acts of God, don’t we?

It would be very wrong to pronounce the flood was divine  judgment on the special sins of Burlington. But would it be just as wrong not to see God’s hand in the flood at all?

God’s voice thundered; the flood was beyond our understanding. But just because it’s beyond our understanding doesn’t mean there’s nothing to glean. Should we write off the  flood of ’17 as a meaningless,  chance event? And just  bleach our basements, lay new carpets and move right along

Power Perceived

We’d best not, I think. Because God’s still in charge. He still plants his footprints in the sea and rides upon the storm. He still speaks. Not just to the waterlogged us, but all of us who saw the National Guard and the Red Cross  and ServPro trucks roll in and took pictures of rivers in roads and of lakes where once were yards.

I think God is saying something to all of us.

John Calvin explained that if natural things always flowed in an even and uniform course– not like the 8 inches in 2 hours that Burlington got early last Wednesday morning- that,

the power of God would not be so perceptible. But when he changes the face of the sky by sudden rain, or by loud thunder, or by dreadful tempests, those who before were, as it were asleep and insensible, must necessarily be awakened, and be tremblingly conscious of the existence of a presiding God. Such sudden and unforeseen changes manifest more clearly the presence of the great Author of nature. 

Beyond that, and seeing in the flood a warning borne of love, we’d probably be unwise to assign specific why’s.

Love Warns

Burlington was no more evil than neighboring Elkhorn. Just like the sun that dries up all the rain, the rain fell on the just and the unjust. Even the Good Lord refused to place blame when he was questioned about the why behind little apocalyptic falling of the tower of Siloam.

Jesus didn’t say why. But he did say glean. Russell Moore writes, “Jesus doesn’t avoid talking about the ultimate Apocalypse either. He rejects a personal sin-disaster correlation but then says: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”(Luke 13:4-5).

Yes. Rolling Thunder, we heard your cry. And now alert, in turn we cry Mercy. For you are the God of mercy.

As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man…Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Matthew 24:37-39, 44

In love, we are warned. Because Gpd is patient, not wishing any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9). And I pray none of us- with wet basements or dry- will miss in this flood a  loving alert. No, this shouldn’t come as a total surprise.

The WHY Is No Surprise

The Bible helps us face life when calamities like floods come. Job faced incomparably worse than we did in the Flood of 2017.  Enemies with swords and thunder from heaven and great winds killed his cattle and servants and all of his kids. His wife said, Curse God and die. He didn’t.

Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away, blessed by the name of the LORD (Job 1:20-21).

Dr. Martyn Lloyd- Jones preached a sermon on those verses in response to epic English flooding in 1953. He preached then, and it’s still as true, that we waste too much time trying to figure out why.

We already know why, he said: 

Sin. Disasters and calamities, earthquakes and floods…are the direct outcome of sin and the Fall. The Bible does not promise us anywhere that these things will not happen. The Gospel is no soothing syrup. There will be wars and rumors of wars and calamities. While there is sin left in this world these things will happen. We should not be surprised. Only those who do not know the Bible will be surprised by these things…

From the biblical standpoint, the remarkable thing is that worse things don’t happen. The remarkable thing is that God causes his sun to rise on the just and the unjust, that he allows such gifts to people who curse him to his face.

The HOW Matters More

What matters more than why is how we face these things, Lloyd-Jones said.

My HOW was a bad how: I was all of harshness and impatience and a smattering of  faithless catastrophizing in the days following, as the wetness crept into more carpets and the boys likened the downstairs smell to- well, let’s just say a dank, dark smell that would make you flee far away.

So I’ll leave you with a picture of some friends who’ve been through the flood and responded to God’s thunderous voice with far more grace than me:

Bill and Genie woke up Wednesday with a 39 inch pool in their basement. Before they could pump an ounce out- the generator was in their also waterlogged garage- the power went out for two days and besides that there was no place anywhere near their house for the water to go. They left their home.

Genie  told me Sunday after church that the water was still 39 inches deep. She told me how she had watched her family’s mainstays and memories – Q-tips to Christmas decorations- afloat down below.

 But it’s okay, Genie said. It’s all God’s anyway.

Bill and Genie are waiting for adjustor to come this week. But they’re not hanging their hope on that. I know because I heard Bill loud and strong  on Sunday.

Pastor’s sermon was on Jonah again. He’d just said something about how we all need to get to that place- and most of us get their without time to reflect in the belly of a fish- that place where where we can say,

My hope is in God alone and I  know there is no other Savior. 

That was when Bill’s voice thundered behind me,

Amen! I heard it boom.

We heard God’s voice thunder last week. Bill and Genie, like Job, worshiped in the flood.

Did we?

For I know that the Lord is great,
    and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
    in heaven and on earth,
    in the seas and all deeps.
He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
    who makes lightnings for the rain
    and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

Psalm 135:5-7


Confirm Thy Soul In Self-Control


“Confirm thy soul in self-control…”

Do you recognize those lyrics? Can you name that tune?

That line has been re-playing in my mind since Memorial Day: Confirm thy soul in self-control. In case you’re drawing a blank on that line- it’s from America The Beautiful, near the end of verse two.

Even if you’re cringing at all the Patriotism and Americana this 4th of July, please keep reading. If you’re not so much “proud to be an American” as humbled and thankful by it, this post is for you.

Despite the truth that our nation is flawed and imperfect and that Christians are first of all citizens of heaven, it wouldn’t hurt to replay Catherine Lee Bates’ lyrics today.

Confirm thy soul in self-control.

What One Ought To Do

Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, Benjamin Franklin wrote.

A nation’s soul can’t be stronger or more free than the sum, or soul, of its parts. And without individual ability to self-govern, national government has no hope. A nation of souls enslaved to their own selfish ways do not a free and great nation make.

Michael Novak explains that true freedom is not being able to do what what desires at the moment or is impelled by passion to do.

To be free as a human being ought to be is to be able to discern, not only what one desires to do or is impelled by passion to do, but also, and even more clearly, what one ought to do…In short, in “the American ideal”… is not the capacity to do what one wishes but the capacity to do what one ought. It is, in short, to be capable of self-government, self-mastery, and self-control.

Apostle Paul knew this well, too.

He knew that real freedom is not found in the ability to follow our heart and act out our selfish desires. Real, Christian freedom is found in the ability to love and do right. Paul knew how easy it was stay slaves to sin rather than fight the good fight

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)

Confirm thy soul in self-control. 

Strong (Joyful) Souls Are No Accident

Add to the self-control mix, this common refrain I keep hearing as I talk with strong Christian friends. Can you hear the repeating theme?

Oh yeah- believe me, I could definitely down that whole pan of brownies tonight. I could. That’s why I can’t even sneak a bite. I’ll share them Friday.

It’s hard to get to bed by 11. There’s so much I can do when the kids are asleep. But when I stay up so late I overeat. Then I’m short and grumpy come morning.

I’d sure love to sleep in, but I make myself get up and work out early. There is some value in exercise. I’ve learned it won’t happen if I wait.

It seems a little over the top, I know, but I add my husband whenever I text or email another man. It’s just a safeguard. I’ve watched affairs start.

I try to practice giving others the last word, especially when we disagree. It’s hard to bridle my tongue and resist setting the record right. But it’s good.

In short, my faithful, fruitful Christian friends didn’t get that way by accident. They had all learned to exercise self-control. 

There was quite a lot of Spirit-powered, self-control happening behind the scenes. They don’t toot their own horns, but day after day, they discipline themselves. Oh, sure, they stumble and fall sometimes. Then they get back up because they know the joy of self-control.

Do you know that joy? The joy of going to bed on a hungry stomach? Or of leaving a well-deserved zinger unsaid?

It’s counter intuitive, self-control’s joy. And knowing that the Spirit bore fruit in you is way deeper than the fleeting joys of giving in-downing the whole pan or taking the last word. Knowing that you didn’t crumble cave, but by grace overcame feels great.

Confirm thy soul in self-control. 

Like a city with walls broken down

Like a city with its walls broken down is man who lacks self-control. Proverbs 25:28

Cities with broken down walls will crumble. They are open to enemies and may become slaves to invaders.

A person without self-control is like an unprotected city. When we don’t exercise self-control to say yes when we should and no when we shouldn’t, we are vulnerable to our soul’s enemies. In time, our city-souls will crumble.

Self-control matters. In this age of distraction and endless temptation to drift online and through social media, we so need self-control.

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, President Lincoln said, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

Soul-strength or city strength depends on walls of self-control. When we lack-self control we destroy our city from the inside. But exercising self-control confirms and bolsters the soul.

Confirm thy soul in self-control. 

Foundational, Not Flashy

Being self-controlled is central to what it means to be a Christian. Along with love and holiness, self-control is a major term Peter and Paul used to describe the essence of Christian conduct (2 Timothy 1:7; Titus 2:6, 12; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 1:6).

When Paul was called to explain the Christian faith to the Roman Governor Felix, he summed up the Christian gospel and worldview as “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25). He didn’t tack on peace or patience or kindness with Felix. He talked about self-control.

Not surprisingly Sir Secular Felix didn’t drop to his knees and convert. No- he was alarmed. “Go away for the present,” he said. Self-control is not flashy or flamboyant or fun. In the moment, anyway.

Author David Mathis describes self-control as not terribly attractive, but, frank and functional. And difficult.

It doesn’t turn heads or grab headlines. It can be as seemingly small as saying no to another Oreo, French fry, or milkshake — or another half hour on Netflix or Facebook — or it can feel as significant as living out a resounding yes to sobriety and sexual purity. It is at the height of Christian virtue in a fallen world, and its exercise is quite simply one of the most difficult things you can ever learn to do.

I’m not here to tell you self-control is easy. I’m here to tell you it’s possible.

Not only is it possible, but if Christ’s Spirit dwells in you, His fruit will come. And self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.

But as with any fruit, tending the soil can help it grow. So, the really difficult thing might be to take Jesus at his word and take time to abide in the Word. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, Jesus said. We must abide to be self-controlled.

But even then, I won’t kid you- it’s still a fight- with those warm, fudgy brownies and zipping your lips and getting to bed at a good hour at night.

But by the grace of God, self-control is possible.

And America? God has shed his grace on thee.

But guess what, America?  The grace God shed on us is one and the same as the grace that confirms our souls in self-control.

So yes, indeed, America: Happy Independence Day!

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Titus 2:11–13


O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America!  America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

America The Beautiful, 

Catherine Lee Bates


More Joy

Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.

George Eliot

Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing to his name, for it is pleasant.

Psalm 135:3

In case you were wondering about that jubilant bicyclist pumping 140 RPM fast and hard to the beat, whose hands kept darting (alternately) up toward the cerulean sky, while she sang Glory! to fields of corn and alfalfa and belted it out over soybeans and wheat- well, yes, you were right.

That was me.

This ride out on the old Giant I took a break from the sermons I love to sing along with a song that brought fresh joy to my heart.

And the good Lord did it again, He did.

He put more joy in my heart than when their grain and new wine abound.

He lifted up the light of His countenance and filled my heart with joy. More joy. And He can do the same thing for you, He can.

That’s it.

No poem to unfold. No weariness to unwrap. No deep theme today. Just a reminder of what you already know:

God uses means. Use His means for grace. For joy. 

So do you want more joy? Then sing more praise.

Let them praise the name of the Lordfor his name alone is exalted;
    his majesty is above earth and heaven.

Psalm 148:13

Many are saying, “Who will show us any good?”

Lift up the light of Your countenance upon us, O LORD!

You have put joy in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound. 

Psalm 4:6-7