My wife texted the word “treacherous” to her mother as I gripped the wheel hard.
Christmas had been a delight, but year-end inventory demanded a hasty exit. Christmas in Michigan on Tuesday, inventory in New York on Thursday, one travel day between. But Wednesday, a wide swath of snow was predicted to settle over our intended route.
We had hoped to stay ahead of the blizzard, forgoing a farewell breakfast outing to get an early start. As we left Grand Rapids, severe weather was chasing us. As we crossed into Ohio, it was licking our heals. By Cleveland we had been overtaken, deep in the soup of wintry squall.
Snow was pouring down heavy, not the large wafers, like billowing frosted flakes, but the small crystalline nuggets, like granules of sugar flung through the sky. Wind swept, the tiny pellets fell in erratic waves, like a swarm of gnats, bleached white, swirling this way and that, then pummeling our windshield with a steady “tink.”
The roadway gradually surrendered, reduced first to ruts, then to barely visible tracks. Snow was piling on faster than plow and salt could contend with. We lumbered along, speedometer hovering near 40 mph. The number of cars spun off the road began to add up - a dozen, then two.
The right lane was inhabited by the overly cautious, hazards blinking, signaling a crawling progress. The left lane was commandeered by the reckless, confident in their four-wheel drive SUVs and plunging ahead at speeds near normal. We were somewhere between these two extremes, forced to navigate between the lanes. Each lane change entailed easing our way out of the established ruts and into fresh snow that offered little traction. Each time I nudged the van across the centerline, I could sense its loosened grip on the road. Gently, I urged it back into the furrows of the lane, where rubber and asphalt could pull together in some limited traction.
This was harsh enough in waning daylight. It became more so as darkened night descended. Limited visibility, restricted even more. Lanes on the thruway were mere approximations, loosely gauged off mounted reflectors on the shoulder and median. We had been texting my mother-in-law throughout the trip to keep her updated on our progress and to assure her of our safety. The darkness inspired the “treacherous” text. Still, we drove.
Somewhere near Rochester, a double-cabbed semi-truck passed us, barreling through this interstate with determination. He was driving with confidence – not so fast as to be reckless, not so slow as to be a hazard. We settled in behind, drafting off his bulk. His twenty some-odd tires were carving a path deep into the snow under the weight of his load. Our four irresolute tires found traction in the wake and gripped the road tighter.
The rear of the trailer was illumined by red lights along the top and in the bottom corners that served as lane markers. Eyes fixed on these beacons, we were guided through the blanket of white, the road clearly marked with illumined red.
We followed that trailer the rest of the way home. His lights became our beacon, his trailblazing became our tracks. Treacherous conditions were made navigable by a steady and reliable guide.
In the tense stillness of driving, as I concentrated on the road, I saw the parable unfold. I was granted ears to hear and eyes to see. Each of us is traveling a road that is more slippery than we realize. The tires that grip one moment can loose traction the next. Slight drifts to the right or left can suck us into an irrecoverable slide off the road. We need a semi truck to follow. The answer is found in the glory of God.
In the Old Testament, God provided a cloud to lead the Israelites through the wilderness by day and a pillar of fire to lead them by night. This was a visible manifestation of the glory of God (Exodus 40:34). A cloud in the desert and a fire in the darkness are about as noticeable as any visible manifestation could be. Impossible to ignore, they were to follow where ever this beacon wherever it went.
By the end of the book of Exodus, the cloud had filled the tabernacle. “So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and the fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during their travels” (Exodus 40:38, NIV). The tabernacle in general, and the mercy seat above the Ark of the Covenant in particular (Leviticus 16:2), became the dwelling place of the glory of God for the ancient Israelites.
Hundreds of years later, in 1 Samuel 4, the Israelites used the ark as a talisman, hoping to improve their odds against the Philistines by bringing it with them into battle. The plan backfired and their losses multiplied seven fold over their initial Arkless outing. Moreover, the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philisitnes. When Eli the priest hears this news he falls over and dies “for he was an old man and heavy” (1 Samuel 4:18). This note of his portliness is not incidental. Interestingly, the word for heavy (kabod) is the same as the word for glory. Eli’s daughter in law goes into labor and delivers a son whom she names Ichabod (which means “no glory”) saying “the glory has departed from Israel.” (1 Samuel 4:21). Indeed it has, in more ways (or, should I say “weighs”?) than one. In one sense, the heaviness had departed with the death of plump Eli. In another sense, the glory had departed with the capture of the ark, the throne of God’s glory.
The word play is intentional…and insightful. God’s glory can be thought of in terms of his heaviness. Not heavy like the chubby Buddha in the Chinese restaurant. Rather heavy in the sense of dense. All the attributes of God – his love and power and mercy and wisdom and justice and knowledge and grace – are dense in their concentration. God’s love is the densest love ever known. Place my love on one side of the scale and God’s love on the other and the side of God’s love drops with a thud. His love is weightier than any other love. This is true of all the other attributes when placed on the scale. This is the glory of God – his attributes in all their density compared to the feather light attributes of any others.
So here is glory…light and heavy (an oxymoron). Light in the sense of clarity, heavy in the sense of density. He offers clear direction charted with densely precise instruments of navigation to insure that he can guide me through this snow storm. He is the semi-truck barreling down the highway, brightly lit and heavily laden carving a path and bidding me to follow.