Thunder. Lightening. Isn’t God amazing?

Lightening near Volcano Arenal, Costa Rica

Thunder and lightning; how I love them. It’s a good thing too: here in Costa Rica, just about every afternoon from May through December we have a ferocious electrical storm. One tries to adjust one’s schedule so as not to be caught out in the torrential rain. And amusingly, the other day the paper ran an article: Rainy season is upon us! We urge you not to buy an umbrella with a metal tip, it might be the last decision you make!

Inside my office I close my windows, since the rain comes in at a sharp angle. I look at it for a while, then go back to my studies, hoping the internet doesn’t cut out. The thunder booms right outside, shaking the windows and setting off car alarms. This is thunder you feel in your chest. I smile and keep working. Thunder and lightning don’t bother me, no sir!

But it does bother some people. We have a four-year-old who spends many days with us. When it was thundering the other day, he teared up and repeated, “¡No quiero!” (“I don’t like it!”). Fortunately, I remembered a trick from when our kids were little. “Listen, listen! Just pretend that pirates are firing their cannons at you! When you hear their cannons, you pretend to pull the rope and yell ‘boom!’ and fire back at them! Watch, do it like this!” Little Ethan is crazy about pirates, so this brought a grin to his face.

Another victory for what my kids called The Dad Method = solve problems with cleverness and fun.

You hear about a thing once, then suddenly you see it everywhere; this week it was thunder.[1] I am a serial reader, and this month the pile includes Lucretius, The Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura), a famous tome of philosophy from the first century BC. Lucretius chided people who believed in the old pagan gods. When it came to thunder he said, in effect, “Don’t be frightened! Don’t think it’s the gods making noise! It’s just Nature, so grow up!”

The world of the Bible is not dominated by gods or by Nature: it is God-centered. This is not paganism, which Lucretius scoffed at, but based on the very first verse, that God is Creator of all. Job 36:2-4 also offers this comment:

Listen, listen to the thunder of his voice and the rumbling that comes from his mouth. Under the whole heaven he lets it loose, and his lightning to the corners of the earth. After it his voice roars; he thunders with his majestic voice and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard.

So while thunder is a natural phenomenon (Lucretius), it is more than that; and it is not angels bowling, but a reminder of the power of God the Maker.

The Mishnah is a thick book that is a compilation of Jewish traditions. Here’s a saying that caught my eye, where some rabbis were saying, in such-and-such a situation, here is how one should respond:

For meteors, earth tremors, lightning, thunder, and the winds, one says, “Blessed is he whose power and might fill the world” (Berakoth 9:2, Neusner)[2]

Wow, Berakoth has it all! Thunder, lightning, winds. I love watching meteor showers too! And in Costa Rica we get small earth tremors every day; the other day one hit just a few miles from here and knocked things off of shelves.

What should you do when the thunder and lightning hit? Well, I won’t take my “pirate” game off the table just yet. But the rabbis are suggesting that for these amazing events of nature, there is a better response: when it thunders, Gary, instead of saying “Whoo, that was a close one!” or “Yeehah!” perhaps you should use it as a reminder that God is great. When there’s an earthquake, small or great, the same.

Some of these rabbis had a way of taking people whose thoughts wander and pushing them back toward God to meditate on his greatness.

Blessed is he whose power and might fill the world!


[1] This cognitive phenomenon is known as the frequency illusion, but I like it’s other name: the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.

[2] The Mishnah was published around the year AD 200, and contains a few traditions from before the time of Jesus; most are from later on. It is a very useful book for understanding the world of the New Testament. Besides the Mishnah, there are thousands of pages of rabbinic tradition from the long centuries after Jesus. As a gentile and a Christian they hold less interest for me than does the Mishnah. There are people who try to import these later, medieval traditions into the Bible. For example, when there are “Christ in the Passover” presentations, they say that in the Passover in Jesus’ day there was a cloth bag with three pockets containing three loaves of unleavened bread. It is hard to prove that this was the custom of Jesus’ day, and it’s likely that the tradition arose long after his death and resurrection. The tradition I cite from the tractate Berakoth (in Hebrew “Blessings”) perhaps dates from the 1st century; in his Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament states that m. Ber. 9:2 is “undateable”. If it does not come from the Second Temple period, the simple truth is I like it and it helps put my theology in order. I give no other endorsement for the Mishnah.

“Thunder. Lightening. Isn’t God amazing?” by Gary Shogren, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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