Witnessing the foaming panorama of Niagara Falls from the Canadian side was a scene I will never forget. The drama of all that falling water was mesmerizing. I went with a friend on a church bus trip leaving from Cleveland, Ohio years ago. Neither of us had ever been to the iconic tourist site before. When the bus arrived at Falls National Park, the trip organizers gave us instructions to be back by a certain time. We had most of the day to sight-see at our own pace. Some fellow bus members went to the casino to do some gambling. Others visited the park, the souvenir shops, and the food booths. My friend and I spent most of our time taking in the sights of the Falls.
We found out that Niagara Falls was the collective name for three falls— Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, Bride Veil Falls in the middle, and the American Falls— the biggest waterfall in the United States. Tourist pamphlets informed us that a remarkable 600,000 gallons of water flowed over the edge every second. The depth below the thunderous water was 170 feet, which was as deep as the gorge was high. We were fascinated by both the natural splendor and the potential for danger as we discovered more about the park’s history.
Most famously were the people who attempted to go over the Falls sealed inside a wooden barrel. A string of daredevils thought that they could take on the Falls and live to tell about it. The first person to survive such a ride was Annie Edson Taylor in 1901. The idea of risking one’s life on such a stunt was beyond me. But for some, the hypnotic power of the Falls, like a muse, called them to come take a ride.
One of the self-guided tours we took was “Journey Behind the Falls.” We rode down in an elevator that released us to a series of well-lit tunnels. One passage led to a cave-like room behind the Falls where visitors could look out a window-like hole in the rock to see and hear the water rushing down. Knowing that the Niagara River flowed above us was unnerving.
After the cave tour, we went up to an observation deck where we saw people boarding the Maid of the Mist. This was a tourist boat that seated about 200 people on an upper and lower deck. Crew members handed passengers plastic rain ponchos with hoods to wear on the voyage. We anxiously watched as the comparatively small craft inched its way out to the gorge, heading straight for the Falls. Powered by dual 350 horsepower diesel engines, the boat sailed dangerously close to the churning white water while maintaining its position against the formidable current. The passengers were duly drenched by the spray of the convulsing water.
We wondered how close the boat could go before it might be capsized by the waves. Only a seasoned boat captain would dare to take those thrill-seekers into that overpowering arena safely. Did their hearts pound as they faced the behemoth before them? Was the fear factor gleefully fun? Or was the close encounter with the unending water too terrible to enjoy? We could only imagine their reactions as we stood observing them from afar.
We returned to the bus on time for the trip back to Cleveland, filled with an inexpressible awe from all we had seen. As we talked about our trip to folks at home, we regretted not boarding the Maid of the Mist ourselves.
Like those passengers on that tour boat, various people in the Bible had fantastic supernatural encounters with God and lived to tell about it. Although Jesus does not present Himself to us in such terrifying ways now, He is no less an unsurmountable wall of power and glory. The Book of Hebrews says, “For you have not come to a mountain that may not be touched and a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and a whirlwind, and the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further words be spoken to them. “(Hebrews 12:18-19)
This passage refers to the time when Moses climbed Mt. Sinai as God’s presence descended upon the mountain, appearing to set it on fire! The smoke-covered mountain shook violently as a celestial trumpet sounded. Moses traveled up the mountain to meet with God at the burning bush to receive The Ten Commandments. It is recorded of Moses, “And so terrible was the sight that Moses said, ‘I am full of fear and trembling!’” (Hebrews 12:21) This demonstration of raw supernatural power was meant to instill the fear of God in the Israelites as they lived in His presence.
Also consider the encounter that left Peter, James and John petrified as they followed Jesus up a mountain like they would often do. When they awoke from dozing off, they saw Jesus transfigured before them, becoming a glorious super-human being before their sleepy eyes. Then the long-deceased persons of Moses and Elijah appeared and held a conversation with Jesus. “And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared, talking with Him.” (Matthew 17: 2-3)
The three disciples were incredulous. Only Peter dared to speak during the vision. Searching for something to say, he suggested building a tabernacle for each of the men, referring to when Moses erected a tabernacle in the desert to house the presence of God. Like the Maid of the Mist passengers tightly gripping the railings of the boat, Peter wanted something to hold onto to secure his reeling emotions from the terror of the scene. His voice trailed off as fear overtook him and they all fell on their faces before the radiance of Christ. The voice of God the Father rang out, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him.” (Mathew 17:5) After the vision dissipated, Jesus was alone in His everyday clothes like before. Even so, they were never the same after that encounter.
Years later, John was in exile on the Isle of Patmos when he was taken up into Heaven by the Spirit to witness another splendid revelation of Jesus. There he saw the enthroned Christ whose appearance was dazzling. Dressed in a long white robe, His head and hair were white as snow, yet His eyes were flaming with fire. Surrounded by a glow like a furnace, His voice was the sound of many waters, perhaps like the pounding water of all of earth’s waterfalls combined. John could not bear the sight and fell down like a dead man. Jesus lifted him up saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.” (Revelation 1:17) John then observed many apocalyptic visions and wrote down what was yet to come.
Finally, another fabulous yet frightening encounter with God was when Mary Magdalene and other women met the risen Christ after He had been crucified. “But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stopped and looked into the tomb; and she beheld two angels in white sitting one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman why are you weeping?” (John 20: 11-23) As Mary explained her grief about not finding the body of Jesus, she turned and saw Jesus standing before her, although she did not recognize Him. He revealed Himself as He spoke her name, “Mary!” (vs 16) Shaken to her core, she responded “Teacher!” Jesus calmed her fears this way. “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” (John 20: 17) He wanted her to know that the power He wielded was on her behalf and she did not have to be afraid.
We can breathe a sigh of relief in spite of these amazing scenes that reveal the daunting power of God. Even with frightful manifestations of Jesus, we should not run from Him. Like the Maid of the Mist bravely making her way out to the Falls, we need to move towards God, not away from Him. We can experience His measured power as He helps us, hear His quiet voice as He guides us, and know His touch when He lifts us up. He will remove fear from our hearts simply because He is so much greater than what threatens us.
Although we don’t have to be afraid of God, we should remember these examples and have a healthy awe and respect for the enthroned Christ. “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.” (Hebrews 12:28) Keeping these glorious excerpts from the Bible in mind, we can come boldly before the throne of God. Christ has won back relationship with the Father for us so that we can claim “My Father, My God” with assurance instead of fear.