If you haven’t heard about that 60-foot Jesus statue that was hit by lightning, you must’ve been on media blackout the past few days. The story’s been everywhere. Many of the reporters could barely contain their snickers. The subtext was obvious: “Take that, ya superstitious fundamentalists!” It reminded me of the Simpsons episode where Chief Wiggum arrested Ned Flanders, taunting “Where’s your Messiah now?”
I wrote something last year that’s apt here. A tornado had just struck the spot where the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was holding its convention and passing pro-homosexuality resolutions. So I took up the obvious question: “Was this a sign from God?” My answer:
We need to be really, really careful here. It’s bad theology to assume a one-to-one correspondence between these sorts of things and particular human sins: The rain (as Scripture says) falls on the just and the unjust alike, and so do the hardships of life. Yet (as Scripture also says) there are particular times that God brings direct, physical consequences in response to specific sins. It’s not the norm. But it’s not unheard of either.
I went on to cite a column by theologian John Piper, who stated his “conclusion” that the tornado was “a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin.” I took a different line in response:
I wouldn’t use the word “conclusion” — not because I think Piper’s wrong about this tornado, but because I don’t know that he’s right. That said, there’s no doubt we need the turn-from-sin warning Piper lays out. So let’s put it this way: God may have chosen an unusually dramatic means to convey it this time. But He certainly conveys it all the time in His Word.
It all fits here too. God works over a nature that generally operates by norms — like, say, “lightning tends to strike tall objects.” It’s not as if Christians can’t do meteorology. At times, God overrides the norms. But they remain, by definition, norms. And when they operate accordingly, that doesn’t testify to His special purpose in a given place and time. Nor, most certainly, does it testify either to His absence or His capriciousness.
So can we learn anything about God from the weather? Sure. But the most important thing we learn comes by understanding it through His Word. He tells us that the creation (not just the people in it) is a fallen place — “groaning” in its fallen state. Its weather reflects that state.
To learn about the fall and about God’s work of redemption, we should focus our attention right back on that Word. Where we should have been focusing all along.