The first line of John Mark McMillan’s song “How He Loves” compares God’s love to “a hurricane” and the believer as “bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.” But hurricanes are overpowering forces that bring destruction, suffering, and, in some cases, death. Not surprisingly, the apparent dissonance of the metaphor and the glorious truth it’s meant to portray has left some people wondering whether a hurricane is an appropriate metaphor for God’s love. I believe it is.
God Rides Upon the Storm
Not only does God affirm his control over “natural” forces like that of a storm (1 Sam 12:17-18; Job 37:9-14; Pss 135:5-7; 148:7-8; Mark 4:39-41; Luke 8:23-25), but he also employs the metaphor of storm to depict his glory and power.
The God of glory thunders …. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars…. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire [i.e., lightening]. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness…. The voice of the LORD … strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever (Ps 29:3–10 ESV).
The Scripture contains many similar storm-theophanies (Exod 9:23-34; 19:16-19; Ps 29:1-11; Ezek 1:4; Ps 104:1-7). Such displays of power are awe-inspiring. Pastor John Piper and his family survived a 1995 hurricane in Florida, and he, like the Psalmist, penned his reflections in poetic line:
God strolled on the beach—
Our legs and faces could not bear the piercing, blasting sand.
God stepped ashore—
Palms waved, scattering branches in his path.
God strode inland—
Magnolias, pines, and oaks,
Who’d stretched one hundred years toward God,
Fell to the ground before him. God stood and breathed—
While we—in dark, closed closet—
Feared to face his glory.1
But storm “theophany” is not just a picture of God’s sovereign majesty. It’s also a picture of divine judgment (1 Sam 2:10; Job 21:17-18; Prov 1:27; Isa 28:2; 29:6; 30:30; 40:24; Jer 23:19-20; 30:23-24; Ezek 13:13-15; Nah 1:3-6). Of course, God’s judgment on the wicked spells salvation for his people. Not surprisingly, the theophanic storm judgment becomes a metaphor for salvation (Ps 77:14-20; Zech 9:14-17).
God Speaks Through the Storm
So God communicates his love toward the righteous when he rains upon the wicked. Hurricanes can be metaphors for divine love so long as God’s people aren’t the victims of their destructive forces.
So it would seem.
But such a conclusion would be simplistic. In point of fact God does sometimes rain on the righteous. He sends hurricanes our way. Job learned this. A literal storm with hurricane-force winds claimed the lives of his children (Job 1:18-19). Job knew God had sent the storm. Yet he worshipped (Job 1:20-21). Later, God brought more suffering upon Job. He took away Job’s health and afflicted him with a loathsome and painful disease (Job 2:6-8). Initially, Job refrained from complaining (Job 2:10). But before long his suffering became too hard to bear. Most challenging was Job’s knowledge that God was ultimately behind his suffering. Not surprisingly, Job compares his divinely imposed afflictions to a storm:
You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me. You lift me up on the wind; you make me ride on it, and you toss me about in the roar of the storm. For I know that you will bring me to death and to the house appointed for all living (Job 30:21–23 ESV).
The God whom Job had thought was for him now seemed against him.
But Job didn’t see the whole picture. He didn’t yet comprehend that God had designed his terrible afflictions for Job’s ultimate good. In other words, the hurricane force winds that were bending and nearly breaking Job had a benevolent design.
With a touch of irony God—the ultimate author of Job’s afflictions—speaks redemptively to Job through a powerful hurricane-like “whirlwind” (Job 38:1). God not only reminds Job that he’s in control. But he also teaches Job, by way of implication, that He who wisely controls the natural world also wisely and benevolently controls the moral universe (Job 38-41). God has to “bend” Job under the force of his sovereign winds of stormy providences so that Job might come to a deeper appreciation of God’s sovereign love and mercy (Job 42).2
So the tornado through which God speaks not only symbolizes the afflictions that nearly swept Job off his feet but also serves as the vehicle through which God affirms his providential care for Job. The poet and hymnwriter William Cooper sums up well the paradoxical nature of God’s “frowning providence” in these lines:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
The very storm that brings pain also serves as the megaphone through which God proclaims his wondrous love and mercy for the believer (see also Psalm 107:25-31).3
Oh How He Loves Us!
For this reason I believe Job could appreciate and (if he were alive today) would sing the following lyrics of McMillan’s song:
And He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions
Eclipsed by glory and I realize how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me.
And oh, how He loves us, oh
Oh, how He loves us,
How he loves us all
If we stumble over the paradoxical metaphor of a hurricane, what shall we do with the cross?! Roman crucifixion was a cruel form of punishment. To use as cross as a metaphor for God’s love was the equivalent of using a guillotine or a hangman’s noose or an electric chair to represent divine goodness. And yet, the cross has served as one of the most powerful metaphors of divine love, mercy, and grace (John 3:14-16; 15:13; Rom 5:8; 8:32, 39; 2 Cor 5:14-15; Gal 6:14; Phil 2:5-11; Col 1:19-20; Heb 12:2). If God can bring redemptive blessing out of a Roman cross, why not through an earthquake, tsunami, or hurricane? With this in view let me encourage you to reflect on the lyrics to McMillan’s song below (as performed by The David Crowder Band)4 and to worship the God who speaks through storms.
- Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 49-50.
- “Yahweh also employs irony throughout the speeches in order to break through Job’s defense and to defuse the bitterness of his complaint. He wishes to persuade Job to surrender his complaint and his avowal of innocence. Then Job may trust his honor and his destiny to Yahweh, confident that Yahweh is sovereign and that he rules in justice and kindness.” John Hartley, The Book of Job, in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, ed. Robert L. Hubbard Jr. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 489.
- See also the entry “Storm” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, ed. Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1998), 817-19.
- This is the version I’m most familiar with and prefer. Other artists have performed this song including Kim Walker, Hillsong, and Todd Agnew.