Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud.” (2 Chronicles 6.1)Rising into a Falling For a brief period, I became infatuated with the open road. I’d bought my first new car, a 1987 five-speed Jetta lovingly christened “Coretta.” Any chance or excuse that came along, I made a break for it. I always knew where I was going, but remained flexible regarding the time and route I took to arrive. Each trip grew more complicated as I sought more challenging terrain to test my driving skills and Coretta’s handling capabilities. The first leg of one expedition headed south from Chicago to spend a few days with my grandmother in Decatur, Alabama. I left there for Philadelphia, where my best friend lived. I charted a roundabout method through the Great Smoky Mountains, followed by brief stops to soak up Asheville and Washington, DC before doubling back to Philly. On reaching the Virginia border, I started seeing signs for the Blue Ridge Parkway. This would be an unexpected treat for Coretta and me—her opportunity to hug a legendary mountain highway and mine to enjoy its stunning vistas. I pulled off to map the best spots to access and quit the Parkway. According to the serpentine brown line, once you took the road, you had to stick with it for quite a distance. That seemed fine to me. Off I went, totally unprepared for abrupt atmospheric changes as the road steepened. Within a half-hour I found myself rising into a falling cloud that grew denser by the minute. I couldn’t see more than a few yards on any side of the car. There was no going back. Any turnouts where I could reverse direction were beyond my field of view. The thought of plummeting to my death terrified me, as did crashing into a slower driver ahead or being bumped off the road from behind. The higher I climbed, the harder I prayed. At last, a clearing revealed a lookout. I eased in beside the only car there. An older couple got out and walked toward me. I fully expected to break into sobs before greeting them. It was best to proceed in tandem, we decided. If one car met with disaster, the other would be there to help. As I returned to Coretta, the husband stopped me. “You know God, right?” he asked. “Yes sir,” I answered. “Good,” he said. “Then you know He’s in this cloud. We’re safer than we feel.” He was right. Surprise Appearance I’ll never know if the gentleman consciously referred to the divine cloud that appears on numerous occasions in the Old and New Testaments. He may have had no knowledge of it all. Either way, his remark relieved my fear by assuring me with God in the cloud there was no safer place to be. In a very literal sense, I was surrounded by His presence and protection—which is precisely why we find Him inhabiting clouds all through the Bible. In Exodus, He hovers in the cloud that leads Israel through the desert and shields them from its unbearable light and heat. He envelops the Mount of Transfiguration in a cloud that audibly confirms Christ’s divinity. At the Ascension, a cloud removes Jesus from sight.
As vivid as these manifestations are, none tops the temple cloud that permeates the site with God’s glory. In 2 Chronicles 5, the congregation gathers to dedicate Solomon’s extraordinary house of worship by raising its voice in praise. As their adoration peaks, the chapter closes with this report: “Then the temple of the LORD was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.” (v13-14) Evidently, the priests and worshipers are more than a little unraveled by this surprise appearance. (Liturgical breakdowns can do this to people.) They try their best to proceed until Solomon calms them down, urging them to grasp what’s transpiring before their eyes. He opens chapter 6, reminding them of God’s promise in Exodus: “The LORD has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud.” Like my anonymous friend on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Solomon essentially asks them, “Do you know God? Then you know He’s in the cloud.”
An Uphill JourneyWithout a doubt, following Christ is an uphill journey. And the higher we go, the less we see. And the less we see, the more clearly we understand what Paul means in 2 Corinthians 5.7: “We live by faith, not by sight.” Growing in faith is like rising into a falling cloud that envelops us until our only choice is trusting God’s guidance and protection. Despite dangerous possibilities on all sides, all we see is Him. We may want to turn back for lower altitudes. But we’ve come too far for blind risks that may send us over the edge. We continue to press upward, no matter how much our natural minds flash on images of potential ruin. We creep along, praying always in hope of the moment when we find a clearing where we can stop what we’re doing and catch our breath. Often that’s when God sends a messenger—a middle-aged man, a wise king, or another chosen vessel—who reminds us to stop looking at the cloud and see Who’s in it. We resume our journey by reentering the cloud, but our freshly gained reassurance transforms it from a fearful place to an infinitely secure one. It’s unnecessary to see where we're going or what we’re doing. All we need is faith to know we're safe because He’s there.
ALONE IN THE PRESENCE
I'm safe and sound, serene and calm
Whenever I'm here I know You're near me
My secret place where I escape
From all of the cares of this race
Because of Your grace
Joy fills my heart
Peace rules and reigns there
Nothing but love overflows
And Your will clearly shown
When I'm alone
In the presence of You
Wisdom is served and life preserved
All from Your words that You speak, Lord
Power displayed and weakness fades
Your greatness is known and all fears erased
Because of Your grace
Joy fills my heart...
When I'm alone with You
My soul learns worship
In spirit and truth
For the glory of Your name.
Joy fills my heart...