We stood on the deck while other tourists boarded. The Maid of the Mist, a massive ferry that travels in circles at Niagara Falls, was the largest I had ever ridden. We were visiting family in upstate New York, and my dad wanted to introduce us to one of his favorite places. At the observation tower an hour earlier, I’d stood in complete awe of Niagara’s beauty and majesty. But then my father said we’d be going out onto the river, to the bottom of the falls. With a sinking feeling in my 8-year-old stomach, I earnestly hoped the boat would float.
Though the falls were still at a distance, I could feel the pounding of the water under the ferry’s hull. I wanted to protest, and I could see the same panicked look in my little sister’s eyes. Terrified, we clung to the rail, and I prayed I wouldn’t throw up.
I hadn’t thought about that moment in years, but it came to mind recently as I read Revelation 1, where Jesus gives John visions to write down. In Revelation 1:15, the apostle describes the Lord’s voice as being “like the sound of many waters.” He repeats the phrase again in Revelation 14:2, which echoes an experience the prophet Ezekiel had of the Lord, whose “voice was like the sound of many waters” (Ezekiel 43:2).
The ancient Hebrews had a word for the formless deep at the moment of creation: Tehom. Speaking of this vast depth, Genesis 1:2 says that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” Though a different entity, the ocean of their time represented a similar powerful unknown. For Ezekiel and John to have experienced God in this manner reveals the intensity of the moment—it wasn’t the trickle of a babbling brook but a thunderous pounding of waves. If we read between the lines, we see that these men would have felt a greater reverence and fear of the Lord than they felt about the deep.
For me, any time a prophet of the Bible has a vision of God, I experience a disconnect. Those moments seem so wild, so untamed, that even the computer-generated images of modern films can’t do them justice. I wonder what it must have felt like to stand in the presence of the Almighty, to see and hear things as described in the Word.
I wonder what it must have felt like to stand in the presence of the Almighty, to see and hear things as described in the Word.
In a sermon titled “The Power of God,” Dr. Stanley says, “When you recognize who God is and what He’s like, you’re going to be, in some way, in some expression … praising the Lord [every day of your life].”
I have to think that as Ezekiel and John experienced God in this way, they became unmoored. One had known Him from the stories passed down since the parting of the Red Sea; the other saw his intimate friend and Savior in a new and intense light. Both experiences led to a profound and unprecedented level of devotion.
Though terrified while approaching the base of Niagara Falls, I admit that once I understood the captain would keep us safe, I felt free to enjoy the moment. As the wall of sound rattled my little chest and mist sprayed over us all, terror turned into wonder. Though undoubtedly far less than what Ezekiel or John heard, I think in my own way I’ve carried this experience as a signpost for what it will be like one day to be fully in the presence of the Lord.
Illustration by Adam Cruft