Last August, during the now famous Lutheran (ELCA) church-wide assembly in Minneapolis, lightning struck the steeple on a downtown Lutheran church where part of the meeting was being conducted. Since the ELCA voted to accept same-sex marriages at this meeting, a decision which created a storm of response pro and con, the news media covered this event rather intensely. As is typical of these types of events people were lined up on both sides like political parties set to win a debate. Some saw God’s smile in the events that unfolded while others saw a divine frown. Condemnations were forthcoming from all sides, especially from some evangelicals who relished the providence of this particular steeple being struck by lightning. They openly said that this somehow displayed God’s obvious displeasure. At the time I wondered (again) at this odd and all-too-frequent attempt to explain what we cannot, and should not, explain.
Was the lightning an act of God? Well, yes I think so myself. In fact, even insurance policies still use this kind of language about such events. But the question here is really simple: “Do we know precisely what God was saying in this lightning strike?” I think the answer is clearly “No, we have no warrant to make definitive statements about what God was thinking or doing in a lightning strike.”
I thought about this again when I read the news this week about a very conservative church in Ohio being struck by lightning. In some ways this story made me smile as I wondered who would speak about this lightning strike? At the same time I prayed for those who were impacted by the damage done. My own home church burned when I was 16 years old and I will always have deep sympathy for a local congregation that loses its building in this sudden way. What I smiled at was not the loss itself, or the feelings of the people in this local church, but the possible response of some Christians. Who was behind this “act of God?” I suppose some might even say, “The devil did this.” I find that is about as preposterous as the response last August that said “God was speaking against the Lutheran assembly and the delegates by revealing his displeasure.”
You don’t need special appeals to lightning strikes to make a case for decisions, good or bad. You need wisdom, prayer, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Everybody could learn something if these tools were used well rather than by making spurious appeals to divine providence interpreted as if we really knew the mind of God on this matter, a matter which is clearly among “the secret things” (Deuteronomy 29:29) the Lord has not revealed to any of us.