On clouds & God’s hand

If you read my blog, On mortality, planes, railroad tracks, and bakeries, you probably remember that I am afraid of flying.  Round trip to Guatemala and back, I had to make 6 flights.

On my last flight back, the moon was placing twilight on the sun’s shoulders like a familiar petticoat.  I had already overcome my fear of the window seat and even looked down on Mexico and Guatemala and the surreal blue ocean as we had flown into Guatemala.  I’d gazed at every rooftop as we’d made our descent, trying to lock every house in my mind.  The houses in Guatemala are unexpectedly beautiful: old, stone-looking, wild flowers spilling out of slightly crumbling walls and gaps in the rooftop, colors not found on the usual American rainbow spectrum.  The house colors somehow remind you of the sea, the Hispanic culture, the warmish weather, the gregarious hospitality, and the striking olive skin, coffee brown eyes, and silky black hair of the Guatemalans all at once.

But even the hills sprouting with trees and slightly wavy rows of houses on our way to landing in Guatemala hadn’t been enough to get me to look thousands of feet below from my airplane window, but the courage God gave me was.  Once I’d looked, I’d found I didn’t need to keep the window shut on the aerial world anymore.  So on my 7:40 flight home, after a short nap, I opened the window enough to see the falling sunset, but not enough to disturb the woman next to me reading a paperback novel.

The sky took my breath away.  The clouds were like their own secret world, and I was among them.  If I didn’t absolutely, positively know they were only air, I would be convinced I could leap out of the plane and land among the cottony fields.

The sunset seemed to encourage such daring, with its streaming streak of sun-licked light.  The world outside was like a new planet, somewhere a very tired person could rest and a very hyper person could burn off energy.  I could have been both at once.  I’d been up since 4 that morning for the first flight . . and, having entered into my third time zone for the day, I was, in a way, ready to lie upon the sheepy beds.  But then, in another way, I was ready to run, run, run, barefoot across the dandelion puff fields.

The sun was totally enchanting as it said goodbye, as if trying to make sure we would miss it when it disappeared for the night, and wait expectantly for its tomorrow return.

And as I sat looking out on this fragile aerial world, I could every once in a while catch a glimpse, and sometimes a bigger glimpse, of the gasping reality of the world below.  It reminded me of how C.S. Lewis described Jill looking down upon the world of Narnia from a cliff of Aslan’s country.  Looking down, imagining the depth of free-falling air, was enough impossibility to cause me to wonder if I could really be so high up.

As I gazed at my cloud world, and the waving-goodbye sun, I thought something like, If I didn’t know any better about the clouds (that is, that they’re air), and I could only trust one, Would I pick God’s hand for protection . . or the clouds?

Right away, I knew the obvious answer: The clouds.

They looked so thick, so secure, so safe, so soft, so trustworthy.  I would certainly want to trust the visible clouds to catch our plane over the invisible, very surreal God’s hand.  After all, God the Father does not really have a hand.  I’ve heard of anthropomorphism before.  God’s hand is a literary term to try to understand God’s protection in my life.  That certainly doesn’t seem as safe as big, fluffy mounds of fields so gentle you are almost positive they could never possibly dream of hurting you.

And it’s true enough–clouds won’t hurt you.

But they also won’t protect you.

As inviting as they look, as secure, as stately, as friendly . . they will simply let you drop through.

Everything around us is like that.  Places, yes, but things and people, too.  A television won’t save your life from a robber.  A friend can’t protect you from cancer.  Your favorite tree won’t shelter you from a hurricane.  All around us, all the time, life always falls through for us.  It’s like grasping at clouds.  We reach out with frantic hands for a social network, new countries we haven’t visited, a paid off mortgage, the newest restaurants, the greatest hobbies, the best of friends, the sweetest of marriages, the most successful children, the greatest schools, the finest investment, the most scandalous news, the fastest-growing industries, the cheapest gas prices, the easiest way to pay off our credit cards, the newest movies, the most powerful pharmaceuticals, the most attractive models, the most clever new idea, the highest quality product, the fastest lane at the grocery store, the shortest customer service wait, the quickest retirement, the slowest way to age.  We grasp and we grasp and we grasp and we grasp.  We reach to overcome fears, find new highs, explore new lows, fixate on evil, magnify ‘good luck’, avoid trouble, hurry through pain, overpower sadness, win the most wealth.  In short, we overwhelm ourselves running from the hand of God.  We flee from His hand for any cloud we can possibly find.

But God’s hand is still out.

Holding the plane, yes . . and far nearer.  God is pushing air into our nostrils, filling our lungs with air . . enabling the digestion of every bit of food to ever reach our blood stream . . carrying every thought from our natural brain to our supernatural mind . . working in our pancreas, kidneys, liver, intestines . . moving our fingers and toes when we want them to . . creating the first heartbeat, keeping the heart awake to the last beat . . holding every cell, every atom, every electron, every tiniest bit of the physical world imaginable together . . . . .

If we could only look with our souls instead of our eyes, we would see that God is insignificant in nothing in our lives.  We would see that all the times we pick to hold onto cloud, God is holding onto the plane.

I used to think the first real time God showed His love to humanity was at the cross.  I now see that the first time God showed His love to humanity was when He reached into the dust and formed the first of us, the first magnificent mystery of a body-and-soul.  The angels are like souls.  The animals are like bodies.  But don’t miss that when God made us, He wove together body and soul, a masterpiece of physical and spiritual paints on a canvas of dust in what He called mankind.

If I had only seen.  This alone was enough to call every soul of the world to Him.  But we didn’t see.  None of us did.  We were blinded by the very real presence of time–the consequence of sin.

Time, in and of itself, can’t hurt you.  It’s simply a cloud.  It can’t hurt you.  But it can’t protect you.

It can’t protect you from death.

You, like me, and everyone else in the world, fall through time.

We can’t hold onto it.  We can’t even slow ourselves down on our journey through it.  We can grasp for it all our lives, but we’ll never catch grip of it.  We are falling.

God, and God alone, slows our fall.  He does not stop our fall, or we would imagine we were gods.  But He holds us in His hand, delaying instant death (and revealing Himself even to those who never take a single breath out of the womb), dropping us slow enough that we have time to find Him, but fast enough that we realize we need to find Him.

The only thing that separates us from everlasting death is the hand of God.  And yet most of us will spend our lives struggling to release ourselves from His grip, kicking at His palm, biting at His fingers, fighting His grip to try to reach clouds or the hard ground of the consequence of our sin, far below.

The Son of God on the cross is the most visible way God could ever have revealed His hand.  His hand could not protect us more than from eternal death.  Christ, the Son of God, gave Himself up to be dropped from the hand of God, held onto no clouds along the way, reached for no sin . . but paid for every single second of fall we deserved for our sin.

Eternity has long since slipped through our fingers.

But not through Christ’s.

He has held on, by the power of God-perfection.

And He is ready to hold us.

. . . Flying just doesn’t scare me much anymore.  Neither does spending time in my house.  Wherever I am, whatever I am doing, whoever I am or am not with, God is with me.  Holding me up.

And the greatest joy of my life is knowing that I have asked Him to do just that for all of eternity.

“The only one who has ever gone up to heaven is the One who came down from heaven—the Son of Man.

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, the Son of Man must also be lifted up. So that everyone who believes can have eternal life in him.

“God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him. People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty. Those who do not believe have already been judged guilty, because they have not believed in God’s one and only Son.”

(Jesus, John 3:13-18, NCV)


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