by Zach Kincaid
A pastor friend of mine wrote something the other day that's worrisome. He said, "The natural disaster that struck Japan is not God’s doing, but the result of the earth’s crust shifting and realigning."
The idea that God hasn't the will to control weather patterns or the cruelty of humankind isn't new. Rather, as this minister might say, to the first, it's the rules that God put into his creation, and to the second, it's humanity's free will. Further, as we look at the omniscience of God, it's an interpretation of Scripture that invites the reader to be more just than God, and, in the same turn, less naive than the authors that seem to square everything onto God himself, whether it be a whistle in the wind or a furnace of fire from heaven. (They had Noah but no NOAA, you see.)
There are some who would ride to the other side of the argument and interpret every occurrence to a specific conclusion. The infamous Jerry Fallwell comes to mind when he interpreted 9-11 to be a result of God's judgment on homosexuals and debauchery. On my friend's extreme side, God can't act or is at least reluctant to, and Fallwell's God is one we should interpret with specificity and not through a veil we see through darkly. Both sides discount God's mystery.
I think Scripture speaks into the middle of these interpretations. By looking at the thread of weather in the Bible, I hope to point out what we see in Scripture. Granted, someone needs to have a general respect for the writers of Scripture - from Genesis to Revelation - and some nod to consistency, in this case, about how the skies over our heads and the ground under our feet are managed by their creator.
The most famous case is Noah. Sure, open theism suggest Noah is a test case for God's changing mind. That's brings up a whole different subject of freewill that only touches this article. The simple happening is a flood and the question is why. God speaks to Noah and says, "I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish" (Gen 6:17). Leave out whether it included the whole world or the world known to Noah, and its still clear that the flooding was due to a directive from God himself, however hard that is to swallow. And, where is the promise of no massive flooding without a recognition that God is charge over such things?
Weather seems an important part of the narrative of Joseph. Without the famine, which certainly killed many people, the story would be completely different. The weather pattern put Joseph on top in Egypt and brought Israel and his family to him, all predicted well in advance through Joseph's dreams and Pharaoh's as well. In other words, God had a plan and it involved weather. Moses also experienced weather patterns that provided a way out from centuries of bondage. The plagues were orchestrated by God himself - blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locust, darkness, and firstborn death. You will notice that at least two of these involve weather directly. Parting water seems a miraculous control of nature. It happens with Moses, Joshua, Elijah and Elisha. Doesn't the earth open up to consume the people who built the golden calf? Was it cued up or is this happenstance? Luck? And perhaps there was a special negotiation with the sky and its birds so to make sure the Israelites were fed. Same thing with those venomous snakes that "the Lord sent... among them" (Gen. 21:6).
In the Book of Joshua, we're told that the sun stands still in the sky so the Israelites could be victorious over the Amorites. "The sun stopped on the middle of the sky and delayed going down about the full day" (10:13). Perhaps Joshua forgot to set his watch to spring forward. We move to Jonah and a storm stirs up just for him, for Nineveh... for God to work through his prophet and see if the city would receive his words with repentance on their lips. So he orchestrated the storm and worked through a big fish and held at bay nearby destruction to give Nineveh a choice.
There are other accounts. Elijah, for example, draws down fire onto the prophets of Baal. Then he runs to the broom tree to rest and to be cared for by birds. Job is another. His conversation with God is telling.
Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surly you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone -- while the morning stars sang together and all the angles shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth the womb, when I made the clouds its garments and wrapped it in thick darkeness, when I fixed the limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, 'This far you may come and no further; here is where your proud waves halt'? (38:8-11)
It goes on for another two chapters. God says that it sis he who raises his voice to the clouds and covers himself in a flood and sends lightning bolts and relieves dry land with rain and instills the hearts of people with wisdom and... and... and.
The Psalms carry the refrain of a God who grasps weather as it works to promote his purposes and his glory - For example Psalm 107 says, "He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there. He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs" (33-35).
This thought of weather being a tool to show God's power is clear in the gospel narrative where he controls the storm and is able to transcend certain drowning. James says the prayer of a righteous person is "powerful and effective." The writer goes on to reference I Kings 17 when Elijah prays and effects weather patterns. Maybe James, presumably the brother of Jesus, got it wrong.
When we arrive at John's Revelation, we see that the earth and the sky flee from the presence of Jesus Christ as judge because there is no place for them any longer (20:11). Why? Because it was time to end time and breath out a new heaven and a new earth. No longer was the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the righteous and unrighteous. The groan of nature and the longing of humanity are now completed in God himself.
If God has no orchestration in nature, can God intervene if he desires? And if he can intervene, why does he on occasion?
How about this: the natural disaster that struck Japan was God’s doing. The earth’s crust is always shifting and realigning, but as Scripture contends, God is at work and knows the hairs on our head and keeps an account of moving earth and moving skies. We are breathing on borrowed breath and the wind moves for reasons only God knows. That said, our critique of the whys and hows and whos and whats should be guarded and tempered in humility and with full acceptance of God's mystery.