I love the sea.
Correction: I love a certain kind of sea.
Not for me the teal-blue waves and white sands and carefully-manicured beaches with dotted umbrellas. I mean, I like those beaches – if you would like to pay to send me to one, I encourage you to do so – but they aren’t my favorites. Give me thrashing gray waves and rocky shores. Give me the sea that I met on the coast of Ireland in the little town of Doolin, that crashes and surges against a karst shoreline. Give me oceans that look like the remnants of our primal past.
I love the sea that way because, to me, it looks like the sea should look: raw and powerful and beautiful and yet somehow unknowable. And I love the sea that way because I always think of God when I am near it. In fairness, God thinks of God when he considers the sea:
“Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’? (Job 38:8)
Consider this: humans have explored less than five percent of the ocean (National Ocean Service). We simply don’t have a good grasp on what’s going on down there. And the sea itself, in times of storm, overwhelms human intervention: often the best hope is simple evacuation. The sea itself is more than we can contain or control, more than we can understand.
That’s why it made me smile recently to discover that there is even a traditional Jewish prayer of blessing when one sees the sea for the first time in thirty days – a response to the awe-inducing work of God’s hands. How appropriate!
Spend time in any mythology and you’ll eventually stumble across one sort of “sea god” or another: powerful, yes, and often unpredictable, terrifying. But Christianity offers a God that does not embody the sea, but who has created it – and who also can control it. Thinking of that, I often feel small, and I’m glad that I do. If I worship a God who has the entire sea in hand, how big can my worries possibly get?
One of the blessings of growing older in Christ has been the simple knowledge that I can only control so much. I can’t make people do what I wish they’d do. I can’t make things happen when I want them to happen…and sometimes I can’t stop them from happening when I wish I could. I can’t create from nothing.
But God can.
Sometimes, embracing what we can’t handle is where a real understanding of God begins. And every time I think about the sea, I’m reminded of that. I can’t change the tides. I can’t make the water do anything it doesn’t want to do. It’s vast, unknowable, often threatening, and quite frequently dangerous.
But not to Him. And neither is anything else.