The Nasties of Nature
Among the most fascinating and detailed descriptions of God in nature are those found in the book of Job. At the end of the book, after Job has repeatedly complained that God “doesn’t get it” and that he wants his day in heaven’s courts, the Almighty responds with a message for Job. He not only “gets it” but He owns it! Job only needs to look at creation for his doubts to be removed about who is in control.
“Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice, to the rumbling that comes from his mouth. He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth…He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’…The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen. He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them. At his direction they swirl around over the face of the whole earth to do whatever he commands them. He brings the clouds to punish people, or to water his earth and show his love.”[i]
This last phrase is particularly significant when it comes to how we view those violent expressions of nature. In this case, the clouds can be interpreted in more than one way. They can be a blessing to some and a curse to others.
The psalmist also builds beautiful poetry around God’s continuing role in the created world:
“He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call…He sends his commands to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes. He hurls down hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast. He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.”[ii]
Jeremiah rebuked God’s people for creating and worshipping other gods besides Yahweh. These manmade gods had no power to send even one drop of rain to the earth. He writes: “But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds to rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.”[iii]
What He sends, He also may choose to withhold to accomplish His purposes. Amos 4:7, 8 describes it this way, “I have withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another. One field had rain; another had none and dried up. People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink, yet you have not returned to me.”
We don’t always look at nature as a means by which God calls us back to Him, a reminder of who He is, what He has done, how much He loves us, and gently (or not so gently) rebuking us for wandering away from Him. We ignore nature, complain about it, use it beyond what is necessary to meet our basic needs, and abuse it “just because.” We consider ourselves superior to it even though the destiny of our mortal bodies is to return to the dust of the very earth from which we came.
The forces of nature are often portrayed in Scripture as instruments used by God to bring judgment. Numbers 11:1 is a solemn reminder that we cannot, and should not, think so highly of ourselves—arrogance can be costly. “Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down.”
It could be that not all the people complained, but the fire of the Lord may have impacted even those who were not numbered among the offenders. Matthew 5:45 reminds us that the innocent suffer consequences brought on by the guilty and the guilty enjoy the blessings showered on the innocent. “…He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Nature as an instrument of God’s judgment is often described through the messages delivered by the prophets to unrepentant nations. Amos 5:7-9 foretells, for example, what happens to those who pervert justice and give preference to unrighteousness. “There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground. He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns midnight to dawn and darkens day into night, who calls the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land—the Lord is his name. With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin.”
Though we might not like it, the Scriptures are clear. God does use the created world as an instrument of judgment. He holds absolute control over that creation at all times. For example, in Isaiah 45:6, 7 we are told, “I am the Lord, and there is no other, I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.”...
He commands. He controls. He cares for all His creation.
[i] Job 37:2, 3, 6, 10-13 [ii] Psalm 147:8, 9, 15-18 [iii] Jeremiah 10:12, 13
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