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.”

100615-jesus-statue-after-hmed-11a.h2 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.

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  1. Jim K June 18, 2010 at 6:20 am

    “–those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Lk 13:4,5) It seems to me that repentance is what Jesus wants us to do in times of tragic events, big or small. With eyes of faith, there is no coincidence in God.

  2. John,
    While what you say rings of truth, at the same time, I do believe the Word gives us enough providential judgements that we can with confidence understand that damaging natural disasters might very well be prolcamations of divine criticism. For instance, I know of a church right now whose pastor has been embezzling and lying for years. He is a man of conviction and powerful preaching, but he is and has lived subversively to the gospel. The church has never (in 16 years) owned its own building nor has it ever grown larger than its 20-30 families. Recently, the building in which they worshipped was closed to them and the subsequent place of worship is now in a dilapidated and obscure warehouse. I told my mother, who has been in the church since its inception, that I believed these events are harbingers of worse things to come if the elders do not address the pastor and work toward repentance and restoration. I think I have the 7 letters to back me up on that one.

  3. June 20, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    ” 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,” I can only say BRILLIANT, and RIGHT ON John. It would be presumptuous of us to speak into these things….and in addition JimK nails it quoting Lk 13.
    Good points to you both!

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