I love the opening words of the Bible. They are so ominous and unprecedented yet so expectant and new. In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, now the earth was formless and void and the Spirit of the Lord hovered over the surface of the deep. The word here for Spirit is used throughout the Old Testament. It’s the word RUAH. It means wind, breath, or spirit.
Have you ever been outside on a windy day? It’s powerful. Is it more powerful to see a news story of a Hurricane, or to be in the center of one? It’s one thing to see pictures of giant storms but it’s another to me in the midst of one. My mother in law was once in a Hurricane in the Bahamas. She thought she it would be fun to go outside and see if you held onto a tree that your feet would blow up in the air like in the movies. It worked. My father-in-Law wasn’t happy. I guess like the saying goes, behind every great man, there is a woman flying from a tree in a hurricane. Feeling the wind is far more powerful than seeing it.
So back to Genesis and the Ruah. What I love is that this is our introduction to God so to speak. This is how we meet him. We hear that in the begging he created, but then our first image of him is the Spirit hovering over the waters. If you have ever been in caught off guard by a giant gust of wind, or held onto a tree because your feet are blowing up in the air, you know that just because you cant see the wind doesn’t mean you aren’t experiencing its force. Just because you cant see the wind doesn’t mean you aren’t witnessing its affect on everything around you. And no one is arguing that just because we can’t see the wind, it isn’t actually there.
All of us go through stages of contemplating God’s presence or absence in our lives. Those who are not followers of God sometimes may seem in a perpetual state of contemplating his absence or existence and even the most devout of may frequently stop and wonder, Is He really there? In this chaos, when this is happening, when our world is going through this, with the loss of that person, is He really there?
In ancient literature, waters, or waters of the deep, especially rough or formlessness are often used to represent chaos, or an absence of divine control. This doesn’t mean deep waters, as in an ocean, but unbridled mystery, darkness, etc. In the flood narrative of Noah chapters later, the author describes God as unleashing the waters of the deep into the world. That wasn’t a good thing. The specific way Genesis describes the earth as formless, void, chaotic, says far more than just, “God hadn’t created land yet.” It says, there was chaos in creation, from its very origin, there was formlessness, emptiness, incompleteness. And yet, why I love this verse, is that we see, from the very beginning, God is hovering over it all. He’s got this. The waters don’t overtake him, the waters don’t subdue him, the Ruah of God is greater than the waters from the beginning.
Fast-forward some thousands (or millions, or billions) of years, depending how you read history. There are a group of twelve men aboard a ship in the middle of the open sea. Some of these men come from financial backgrounds, some from socio-political, but some are seafaring, accustomed to life on the open sea. They notice the boat starting to rock. They notice small white caps on the waves as the water beings to roll the boat harder and harder. They notice dark clouds that only moments ago seemed on the horizon but they are now already upon them. Water begins to fall ferociously, waves splash over the boat, no right minded person would be out in this sort of storm. The men begin to look at one another. They are all afraid but it’s the sailors first. Just in a look they tell each other that the small vessel wont survive the storm. Soon all the men know, amidst all the wind and waves and chaos there isn’t a word to speak to one another. They have one last task. Go and wake their leader, somehow he is sleeping amidst the storm. The waves have jostled him from his slumber. They have to let him know that this is over. These are his last moments. They wake him, concerned and perturbed at his reluctance to help save the ship. “Don’t you care if we drown?” they ask him.
Then he stands, as if he stands on solid ground not a rocking ship. Then he speaks, “Be quiet, be still.” Then he speaks again, this time to the men on the boat, “why are you afraid, do you still have no faith?”
Jesus had spent some time with these guys before. They know him by now. And yet when the chips are down, when their life is on the line, they believed the storm they could see was stronger than the God they could not.
They didn’t wake Jesus because the knew he could calm the storm, they work him because he wasn’t helping. They woke him to warn him the end was near. And yet Jesus looks at them as if to ask, “don’t you know by now? I am the God who hovers over the chaos, who has control over all things. Don’t you remember who I am? I am the God who has calmed chaotic waters since time began.”
Since the very beginning, we see the Ruah of the Lord hovering over the waters. But it is probably more appropriate to say we feel the Spirit of the Lord hovering over the waters. We don’t see wind. We feel wind. We don’t visually observe it although we may see what it does or its path. We interact with it directly. When the wind touches our skin it is as real as when we hug a loved one, or shake a colleagues hand. But we don’t see it.
Often I have instances when I question if God is there, if he has this, if he will show up. But too often I am looking for him to show up as opposed to trying to feel his presence already with me. God is described in so many different ways throughout Scripture, but we know of him, since the earliest of time, to be Ruah, breath, wind, Spirit. He is a soft breath, a harsh powerful wind, and indescribable spiritual presence.
If God is like the wind, I want to stop trying to constantly see him, and start pursuing constantly feeling him. Whatever happens in life, I want to trust the God I can feel over the storm that I can see.