I am writing this while on vacation in Topsail, NC. This is our second time here, with my wife’s side of the family. The beach is a special place for me. Growing up, my family went to Wildwood, NJ every year, which was the highlight of the summer but also the marking of the beginning of a new school year the week after. For six years, I also pastored a church on the Jersey Shore, although we were so busy having kids and with ministry, we didn’t actually spend as much time there as we would have liked looking back. However, some of my favorite preaching moments and baptisms were held there that I will always cherish.
What is it about the beach that draws us? Why do thousands flock there every summer? What is it that makes it such a popular vacation spot around the world? What is the sea trying to teach us that our hearts constantly long for and find such peace in?
In this article I’d like to propose four realities of God that the sea is seeking to communicate.
- The Endless Expanse and Depth of God
“No man has found how far he can go with God because there is in the mysterious depths of God neither limit nor end.” -A.W. Tozer
Staring at the ocean there is a sense of something so much bigger than ourselves and our own little worlds. The sea stretches far beyond our natural sight and in so doing stretches our minds and hearts beyond the ordinary limits we find ourselves so often feeling “trapped” by. In many ways, we also put God in a “box” of our own making. While He has revealed himself in creation and ultimately in the person of Christ, there is also the reality that He is incomprehensible to the finite human mind. Yet, we so often begin to think of the the infinite God as finite, limited and entirely “like us.”
But this does not satisfy the depths of our soul, which was made for God and God alone. Perhaps it is why we find ourselves “bored” with God; we have created a God in our image instead of discovering and spending time allowing Him to reveal himself and satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. One of the books I’ve been reading on this vacation is called “Now I Sea!” The author in one place writes: “Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choice-less as a beach-waiting for a gift from the sea.”
There is a holy (other-worldly) and infinite depth to God we have yet to discover; but it requires taking time to simply gaze upon the endless reality of who He is. There are waves upon waves we have yet to experience, depths yet to be explored, an eternal vastness yet to be discovered.
2. The Wonder, Beauty and Romance of God
“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord…” -Psalm 27:4
There is an undeniable wonder, beauty, even romantic reality about the beach. So many newlyweds for example go to a beach somewhere for their honeymoon. Those who are married will escape to the shore to rekindle their relationship or renew their vows or be refreshed. The sunrises and sunsets can be breath-taking. The sound of the waves crashing, the feeling of the wind on your face, the sand on your feet, even the taste of the saltwater, produces a wonder, an awe, a soothing balm of healing to spirit, soul, body and relationships.
If God is truly the Creator of this world, then all his art-work displays aspects of his Nature and Character. It’s a reflection of His essence, his heart, his emotions. The shore is drawing us and calling us into the wonder, beauty and mystery of God. It is His wooing into relationship with Him, stirring us to seek Him and find our hearts renewed and healed in the glory of who He is.
3. The Playful Pleasure of God
What do children do at the beach? They play. They imagine. They create. They laugh. They squeal with delight. They are free and uninhibited. It seems they never grow tired of the waves crashing into them or sweeping over their bodies. They will spend hours upon hours running from the waves with a joy that never seems to diminish. They will build sand-castles or play in the sand without it seeming to get old.
What does this speak to us about the “playfulness of God?” Is it sacrilegious to speak of him in this way? Didn’t Jesus himself say unless we change and become like we little children we will not enter the kingdom of heaven? Did you know Jesus is described in the book of Hebrews as being “anointed with the oil of joy far above his companions?” (Hebrews 1:9).
As adults, we easily get bored with monotony. We even take every-day miracles for granted without even thinking about it! Think of the sun rising and setting every night. Think of the conditions that have to be just perfect for life to exist on earth. Think of the miracle of the human body, even down to specific parts of the body (the eye, the ears, etc). But did you ever consider that perhaps God never gets tired of these things? That perhaps, like children, everyday he says “Do it again!” with the same amount of joy as the first time? There is a joyful, even child-like dynamic in the power and person of God.
What do you do with dolphins? With sea-horses? With so many of the funny looking or colorful or playful creatures of the sea? If paintings tell us something of the painter, what do these realities speak to us about God? One of my favorites verses is Psalm 16:11. It says this: You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Path of life. Joy in his presence. Eternal pleasures.
Is this how you think of God? How sad and tragic that our view of God can often be so boring, stuffy, and depressing! There is endless pleasure, abundant life and fullness of joy in his presence! The sea is beckoning us to the playful pleasure and power of God.
4. The Treasures of God
My wife loves storms. Personally, I don’t find the same joy in them as she does! Perhaps it’s because they remind me that not everything is perfect after all and that storms will come in life that wreck havoc. We were there in Jersey when Hurricane Sandy hit our area. We saw the destruction; certain area’s literally looked like a war-zone. We saw the pain and problems it brought in many people’s lives.
But we also were part of witnessing the healing, restoration and rebuilding that began to occur as we assisted with the clean-up. Jenny Cote writes in her book “Now I Sea!” the following: “But let me challenge you to welcome the cleanup. In fact look forward to it! Celebrate that the storm is over and you survived. Just as it was fun finding treasured shark teeth in the beach cleanup, find treasures for your spirit as you dredge fresh sand back onto your beach. Salvaging not only restores; it makes your beach better than it was before.”
Yes, we live in a fallen world, under the curse and destructive power of our collective and personal sin. Storms occur in a world that has been invaded by evil. And yet, there are treasures all around us as well. Treasures reminding us of Eden. Treasures of God’s grace, love, mercy, goodness, blessing and compassion. Treasures pointing us to heaven.
But sometimes, we don’t recognize, see or find these treasures of God, because we aren’t looking for them. Treasures hidden in the sand or under the sea have to be pursued. The same is true with the treasures of God. Jesus said, Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you and will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. (Luke 11:9)
In Jeremiah 29:11-14, God says to his people who had been taken captive because of their sin, the following: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord…
And in Isaiah 45:3 God says: I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, The God of Israel, who summons you by name.
God is pursuing us. The sea is his megaphone, amplifying his “still small voice” that is calling our name. He is seeking to draw us to himself and into relationship with him, even a deep, divine, holy, eternal fellowship/romance. The question is can we recognize his voice and will we reach beyond the symbol to enter into and find the true source and substance?