Weather is a reminder of God’s sovereignty

It’s hot!

Of course it is. In fact, if you read this any time before October, you’re rolling your eyes at the tired observation. Here’s another: pretty soon it will be cold, and you will be shuffling to your car wishing you’d brought a heavier jacket. Weather folks will search intently for some way in which this day is extraordinary for a blustery October day, just as they did for 30 August days in a row; it’s a job and it is remarkably interesting to nearly all of us. When I talk to my mom or dad, we invariably talk about recent rainfall or temperature trends, and cluck our tongues about how the weather has disappointed us in some way. It’s cliched; it’s nearly unavoidable; and it’s a form of street theology.

I had this thought as my Sunday School class went through Elijah’s drought in 1 Kings a few weeks back. Why do you suppose God chose a drought to discipline the nation instead of the Syrians or some other tool? I think maybe it’s the same reason that I look at the Weather Channel app on my phone nearly the first thing every day—the weather affects a lot that happens every day. In an arid place like Israel, the land is always pretty close to being too dry to farm. How many months passed in Israel until the idle chatter about rain turned to panic and despair when the sky closed up? The conversations almost certainly became, “Why is this happening?” within a short time. By the time a year or two had passed with no harvest, people were starving.

If God meant to direct the attention of an evil king to Himself, it worked. We know Ahab was beating the scorched bushes looking for Elijah. Ahab believed the drought was sent by God and he believed that Elijah was God’s prophet. But Ahab didn’t fear God. That combination of belief and disregard only increased the judgment on the faithless king, but God was revealed as holy and just in judgment.

I’ve never seen a three-year span with no rain at all, but I’ve seen long droughts. These multi-year dry spells that put farmers and ranchers out of business put a strong feeling of unease on even city dwellers. Each morning, we’d look at the weather and then glance at the sky in hopes our app was mistaken. A recent drought had churches across the Southwest praying fervently for rain.

"But God reminds us that our lives are in his hand every time we look at the weather forecast. We see it when the forecast is wrong, and we see it when the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike."

That’s what I mean by street theology—an everyday way that we think about God and even understand Him a little better. What God’s expressed judgment of Israel in 1 Kings had in common with our own hot 2022 summer is that God is completely sovereign over the sun and the wind and the rain. Absolutely, and even in our sophisticated day 3,000 years after Elijah. Sometimes it grates on us to be powerless because we are proud. At other times it humbles us as we come to the end of ourselves. The former is judgment, and the latter is repentance.

A casual reading of the Elijah story makes me wonder how the people remained “limping between two opinions” three years into a deadly drought. Their disdain for Elijah was in a sense a repudiation of Baal, the “storm god” who couldn’t make it rain (because he didn’t exist). But still, they wouldn’t repent.

We’re that way about so many things. The relentless parade of drug advertising that chokes my television implies that we can altogether avoid the effects of age and bad habits—as though to live forever. I read a statement from a prominent scientist in which he proposed to extend his physical life until our technology reached the point that his consciousness could be uploaded to a digital storage device and live there until we found a way to keep a cyber-physical body alive forever. Until! You might find that rich, but it is only a bit down the road from our apparent hope that we can escape the sting of sin, death.

But God reminds us that our lives are in his hand every time we look at the weather forecast. We see it when the forecast is wrong, and we see it when the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.

I’ve always believed that two professions should be especially humble before our Creator—farmers and physicians. These folks share the almost daily experience of being flummoxed or delighted by something beyond their understanding. In my short life, I’ve heard doctors say more than once, “I’m not sure,” or “I’ve not seen this before.” We can map the human gene, and we can alter the genetic characteristics of a grain of corn, but life and rain are beyond our control.

I thank God for those who puzzle over the mysteries of life. They have blessed the world a thousand  times a year. But that’s the point; we should thank God, realizing that all wisdom and weather flow from His hand.

There’s joy in that—for those who fear God.

Correspondent
Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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