The language of floods is visceral, and frightening – like the real thing. Floodwaters ‘rage’. An ‘angry’ river rises. Bridges, homes, streets are ‘swallowed up’.
The term ‘rain bomb’ (however meteorologically inaccurate) has gotten a lot of traction this week, as swathes of Queensland and NSW were deluged and more than a dozen people lost their lives. One of the things we say about floods this bad is that they are of ‘biblical proportions’ – invoking the story of Noah’s Ark and a flood so devastating there was no ground high enough to escape it.
But the language of flooding appears again and again in the Bible.
When the psalmist reaches for a way to describe just how desperate his situation is: ‘Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck … I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me’ (Psalm 69).
When Jesus looks for a way to express the utter collapse of a life built on the wrong things: ‘The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash’ (Matthew 7).
But psalmist and prophet also use flood language to declare their belief in a God who saves. ‘The Lord sits enthroned over the flood’ (Psalm 29). ‘When you pass through the waters,’ says this God to his people in Isaiah 43, ‘I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.’
Floods are so overwhelming that we humans use them to describe some of the very worst moments in life; and also our experience of relief from, or consolation in, the worst. In the face of literal floods, consolation is something plenty of Australians could use some of this week.