Ordinary Thunder - Acts 17:26-28

26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’

Acts 17 (NRSV)

Niagara Falls is my least favorite town in the Union.[1]  We used to drive by the place every summer when I was a kid, but I never stopped until college.  It was a miserable place.  I ate horrible, over-priced food, was inundated with unwanted advertisements, and spent most of the time arguing with my companions. I find it so jarring, our ability to build distracting and needless accessories around something so grand in and of itself.  But after exhausting the town, we journeyed to the base of the falls themselves.  There’s actually an elevator to the very bottom that opens to a large deck, the top of which is completely subsumed in crashing water. Most people don’t venture very near to the water, but I just had to get as close as possible.  

It’s almost impossible to describe the sound of something like Niagara Falls.  It’s a sound you can feel, like your arteries are trembling.  There I stood, all alone, at the foot of a great beast, roaring in my face, drenching my body in its spit.  I was in awe.  I remember thinking about this story from Exodus:

Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God.  They took their stand at the foot of the mountain.  Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently.  As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder (Exodus 19:17-20). 

There at the foot of Niagara Falls I felt like I was hearing the voice of God; the bellowing, reverberating, natural, sound of God. And it was stirring me in the deepest chasms of my soul.  Of course, the sound was not the sound of God’s voice.  No, it was the sound of six million cubic feet of water falling 165 feet every minute. 

Or was it? 

I don’t equate God with nature.[2]  But what I read Paul to be saying in his speech to the Athenians in Acts 17 is that every human is designed to go looking for God.[3]  Perhaps, at the mouth of Niagara I heard the God behind the roar, I glimpsed a shadow of him, and it caused my spirit to quake.  Perhaps that thing inside me that is ever groping for the Eternal awakened for a moment.  Perhaps God was reaching out to me through the falls.

I can't decide whether this is awesome, or if it doesn't even look like a waterfall.
Here’s the tremendous thing about what Paul seems to be saying: God is not just behind the racing water.  He’s not only behind the roar. We often get so caught up in situating God in the grand, but he is also God of the ordinary.[4] He might meet you in the dish water, the bathroom stall, the hymnal, the beggar’s hand, the barista’s “Good morning!” In him you live, and move and have your being.  Not God behind the roar, but the God behind your being. 

It’s easy to look for him and be swept away by him in the mystique of a grand water fall.  I hope, River Street, we’ll be a place that looks even harder.  For him in the drug addict’s life; for him in the storm; for him in the small voice; for him among the disadvantaged; for him in the darkness; for him in the chaos; for him in the pessimist; for him in our culture; for him in our enemies; for him in our hate, our lust, our pride, our doubt, our shame; for the thunderous voice of love that seeks to come out to us, to comfort us, and say, “I am here.” He is not far from anyone of us, shall we go looking?

[1] I know that’s not a very fair thing to write . . . my tongue is in my cheek, I promise. Also, Tucumcari, New Mexico is a close second.  Ask me why and I promise to make you laugh. 
[2] That system of belief is called pantheism. Christians, to my knowledge have never espoused pantheism.  We have always referred to nature as creation, so as to distinguish it from its Creator.  There are many Christians, however, who espouse some form of panentheism.  This is the idea that God can at times be working through or within nature.  There are some Christians who deny even this, but my sense is that most Christians find it acceptable to look for God in his natural world. In Job there seem to be indications that when no one’s looking God might even take a stroll among his creatures (39:1-4; 40:19; 41:5). 
[3] It’d be helpful here to compare Acts 17 to Acts 14, where Paul says to the people of Lystra, “Friends, why are you doing this?  We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful season, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy” (vv. 15-17).
[4] I’ve taught about this many times.  We love to make God the God of success not the God of martyrs and paupers.  We love the God of big buildings and miss the God of the gutter.  We love the God of good music, but forget the God of the voiceless.  In order for God to be the God revealed through Christ he must be the God of the whole spectrum. Think about Matthew 25 where Jesus tells us to look for him in the naked, the stranger, the hungry, the imprisoned, the ill, and the thirsty (vv. 35-36).


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