This time last month our family had the privilege of visiting Niagara Falls and spending 24 hours looking at the cascading water from every possible angle, on both the Canadian and (American readers will be glad to hear!) the US side. I didn’t manage to post this last month, since we were caught up in the busyness of sightseeing (sorry, Barry!). So, belatedly, here are a few random thoughts that occurred to me while we were admiring this wonder of God’s world…
We went on the boat trip to the bottom of both waterfalls (you should definitely do this if you visit). As you sail into the horseshoe of the Canadian Falls you are flanked by these two towering walls of water (57 metres high) on either side and it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to think yourself into the shoes of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. If it is an awesome spectacle to be in the midst of all that water tumbling down naturally, what must it have been like to walk between the walls of water divided supernaturally by the hand of God?!
The sight of so much water thundering in a torrent started my mind running over some of the many places where water features in Scripture, and in particular what it says about the Lord’s sovereignty over the waters. No doubt you can think of more to add to the list:
- Gen 1.2: …the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Whatever else this verse means, it at least shows that God brought the waters into existence and was in control of them, even in their most chaotic and unformed state, before there were any banks or channels or shores to set boundaries to them.
- Gen 6.17: …behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Just as God set the boundaries of the waters (Gen 1.9), so he has the power to remove them and return the world to that formless state as it was at the beginning. Standing beside Niagara Falls and watching just a tiny fraction of those waters pouring over the edge of the cliff is a truly humbling experience—these 14 million cubic feet per minute are just droplets compared to the countless trillions of tons of water whose movements God directs each second.
- This was why the psalmist fell down in worship before God: The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty… The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. (Ps 29.3-4,10); Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting. The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty! (Ps 93.2-4). We visited the ‘Cave of the Winds’ at the foot of the American Falls, which give you the opportunity of standing close enough to the Bridal Veil Falls that you are pelted by the water that is bouncing off the rocks jutting out from the cliff. You’re not being hit by the water directly falling over the edge of the Falls, you understand—just the spray from that water hitting a rock and then hitting you. And it’s painful! According to the guides, it’s the equivalent of being hit by water in a force 1 hurricane! We managed to stand under it for a few seconds and the force of the spray washed one of my sandals off!
- Even the rainwaters were a source of wonder to a man whose mind was trained to see the hand of God even in this most everyday and ‘ordinary’ of happenings: As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvellous things without number: he gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields… (Job 5.8-10). If you’ve never thought of rain as an example of one of the great, unsearchable and marvellous things God does, you have got to read this short post by John Piper here. (I’m sitting looking out of my study on an exceptionally grey and rainy Northern Irish day, by the way, so I’m thankful for this perspective on the rain!!
- Then there’s the Exodus—God opened the path through the Red Sea at the beginning Israel’s journey to the Promised Land and opened a path through the Jordan at the end, and who caused a river of freshwater to follow them through the desert in between: The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back… What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?… Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water. (Ps 114, passim), cf. 1Cor 10.4).
- When Daniel sees powerful and beastly world empires rising out of the sea in Daniel 7, and when John sees one of the great red Dragon’s two henchmen, the beast from the sea, who seems to be a conglomeration of all Daniel’s beasts rolled into one ‘super-beast’, in Revelation 13.1-10, how reassuring it is to know that the Lord sits enthroned over the flood. No evil power, no empire or king or president or pope, can ever arise apart from his sovereign will, or do anything apart from his sovereign will.
- When John is given a vision of the risen, glorified Christ in the opening chapter of Revelation, his voice of power and majesty is compared to ‘the roar of many waters’ (Rv 1.15). Standing beside Niagara Falls is a terrific illustration of the kind of impact John’s language is meant to have on our imaginations.
- Towards the end of John’s vision, when he is struggling to find a metaphor to do justice to the sound of the victory shout of the people of God on the last day of this world when the Lamb has triumphed over his enemies, he has to use three different pictures: Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. (Rev 19.6)
One other, most sobering, thought occurred to me as we stood just a few feet from the edge of the Canadian Falls, watching the water and anything that was carried along in it plunging over the edge—noiselessly, because the drop was so high that the churning of the water far below couldn’t be heard from where we stood. I tried to imagine what it would be like to fall in at that point (not hard to do since our younger children insisted on climbing onto the fence to see better). As I looked around nervously I realised there wasn’t a single lifejacket or lifesaver to be seen. With a shudder I presumed it was because there was no point. If anyone fell into the river here, they would be beyond all help and their fate would be sealed. As we walked back from the edge I looked at the crowds of happy tourists all around and wondered how many of them were being swept to the edge of the eternal abyss; how many of them would only recognise their peril after they crossed the line from life to death, when they were tumbling helplessly into hell, when it was too late for them to call out in repentance and be saved. How urgent is the need for fishers of men who will catch those in the stream headed for judgement and pull them to safety.