Unlike my friend who is a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society, I’m generally not a big fan of clouds. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it feels like we get more than our share of cloudy days. As clouds drain color from the sky, they seem to diminish other colors in nature as well. That’s particularly evident in the large bodies of water that surround us on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s easy to feel down on dark, cloudy days.
I recently heard a sermon which described clouds as a symbol of God’s presence. As I pondered this concept, I began to rethink my attitude toward clouds. Exploring the references to clouds in the Bible, I found that clouds symbolize both positive and negative concepts, with the positive symbolism outweighing the negative.
In the lands of the Bible, where clouds and rain are rare during the summer, people no doubt welcome clouds as a source of protection from the heat of the sun. Having lived in a hot, tropical climate myself, I remember longing for the cooling shade of clouds. In these circumstances, we welcome cloud cover.
God offered similar protection to the Israelites as they fled Egypt. The cloud of God’s presence hid the people from the pursuing army, then later led them through the desert. Throughout Scripture, God often hides His glory in a cloud, sheltering vulnerable humanity from His overpowering presence. This is referenced several times in Exodus, as in chapter 40, verse 35:
And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
On the mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John, already dazzled by the brilliance of Jesus’ appearance and the manifestation of Moses and Elijah, grew even more overwhelmed and fearful as the cloud of God’s presence overshadowed them (Luke 9:34-35).
As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”
Sometimes I feel this way when traveling on an airplane that enters the clouds, signaling possible turbulence ahead. But on this occasion, the cloud did not create turmoil, but rather affirmed the identity and authority of Jesus.
Not all Biblical references to clouds involve the supernatural. Psalm 147:8, for example, describes the blessing of God’s control over clouds and other aspects of nature:
He covers the heavens with clouds; he prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills.
And the natural phenomenon of the rainbow in the clouds reminds us of a supernatural reality:
I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. (Genesis 9:13)
The English Standard Version of the Bible uses the word cloud 148 times; The Dictionary of Bible Themes offers over 15 different categories of the word’s use. Exploring this magnitude of information could fill volumes. Looking into the Biblical portrayal of clouds on our frequent overcast days has inspired in me a greater appreciation of this aspect of God’s creation.
I appreciate the reminder of the cloud that appeared as Jesus ascended into heaven (And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Acts 1:9), as I watch for the one signaling His return (And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Luke 21:27).
In the words of Joni Mitchell’s song, I can “look at clouds from both sides now,” and on cloudy days remember that above the clouds, the Son still shines gloriously.
All verses quoted are from the English Standard Version, accessed through https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+40%3A35&version=ESV.
Christine Sine is offering three seasonal, virtual retreats to explore living in balance and in line with the natural and liturgical rhythms of the year. Join her for one or all of them September 2, October 14 and December 9. These retreats will encourage us to center ourselves and our lives as we move through the seasons beginning in Fall and moving through Advent. They will be times of reflection, creativity and fun.