Posted by: Geoffrey Meadows | November 3, 2007

Is God in the weather?

In the Old Testament, droughts, famines, pestilences and invasions were usually attributed to the sins of the Hebrew people. A drought in Jeremiah’s time was interpreted this way, for instance:

 “Drag them off like sheep for the slaughter And set them apart for a day of carnage!  How long is the land to mourn And the vegetation of the countryside to wither?  For the wickedness of those who dwell in it, Animals and birds have been snatched away, Because men have said, ‘He will not see our latter ending.” (Jeremiah, chapter 12, verses 3 & 4)
In this verse the people are warned that an invader (a drought – one that might look like a war) is to come producing “a day of carnage.”  Also, humans are not the only ones to suffer because of their “wickedness,” nature also suffers equally.  A similar passage emphacizes this: 
Their nobles have sent their servants for water; They have come to the cisterns and found no water.  They have returned with their vessels empty; They have been put to shame and humiliated, And they cover their heads.  Because the ground is cracked, for there has been no rain on the land; The farmers have been put to shame, They have covered their heads.  For even the doe in the field has given birth only to abandon her young, Because there is no grass.  The wild donkeys stand on the bare heights; They pant for air like jackals, Their eyes fail For there is no vegetation. (Jeremiah 14, verses 3-6)
One might wonder why the Hebrew people were always found guilty of these disasters in the Old Testament. One of the main reasons is that for most of the Biblical times, the Jews maintained idols. Another reason they were blamed was because they did injustices like the taking of bribes, not looking out for the widow and the orphan, doing violence, not observing the Sabbath, disparities between rich and poor, etc. These things were all earlier condemned in the Mosaic law with the promise that if they commited such acts they would be punished by God with a drought, a famine, a pestilence or a war. This is all in the curious chapter of the Biblical Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 28, which lists blessings if the children of Israel obeyed, and curses if they did not. This chapter is really the foundation of all the prophets who came later predicting hardships for Israel.
Things weren’t all bad, however. Some scriptures predicted forgiveness and reconciliation (like Isaiah, chapter 41, verses 17-20):

The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress, That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.

In this passage, rain and water are in the power of God to give. It is also his doing when the land and the natural world are restored.

Today, we may take some exception to this whole line of thinking. We see it as only physical properties which produce changes in the weather. But in the Bible it was the culpability of the people who brought these disasters on themselves — because they had departed from the way outlined in the Old Testament, particularly the Mosaic law.

And who’s to say that to a certain extent, and on a certain level, they may not have been right? We are certainly discovering that the world is limited and that we may be changing the weather ourselves, for instance. Does it make any difference if we have caused those things to happen physically rather than morally? On the one hand, because of global warming, we have physically altered the climate which makes us morally culpable; this is Al Gore’s big message. On the other hand, we are culpable not because we have changed the world physically but because we have acted irresponsibly toward God, nature, and our fellow human beings. And I don’t know of anyone who has argued that we have acted responsibly. So there is a moral element here no matter which way you look at it.

There does seem to me to be a danger in attributing all the ills of the world to our own sins. At the point at which we start doing this our “ethic” may begin to cause paralysis rather than action. But in the long run a little sensitivity would be helpful. You get the impression sometimes that any mention of global warming in the context of conversation about the weather is seen as a little loony. I have a conservative friend who talks with me about global warming all the time, although the reason he does is that he believes the opposite of what I do. And still it is refreshing just to talk about it.

Does seeing God in the weather tell us anything about ourselves or our ultimate relationships to God, to others, and to the natural world? It may be that seeing God in the weather will turn out to be a kind of virtue in the near future. Seeing God in the weather will certainly add urgency to our efforts, not only to deal with global warming but also to the many other problems we have among ourselves. Still, many do not believe in God, and many Christians do not see the link from the weather to global warming – but we can still be on the same page, so to speak, if we take what’s happening with the weather just a little bit to heart.


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