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August 20, 2009


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For a completely different interpretation of the Minneapolis weather that afternoon see Lindsay's comment (#27) here

Well stated, Don!

Why is it that these things always come down to homosexuality? How come God doesn't rip the steeple of churches and roofs off buildings where people are gossiping, cheating, and lying?


Certainly I think there's a tension here. One doesn't want to throw his or her theological weight around and makes these claims willy-nilly. Sometimes I think Piper states things like this in order to grab attention and legitimize his somewhat dangerous theology.

On the other hand, what if he's right? What if God actually sent an actual tornado to actually send a message to the actual people of the ELCA? This nation? The Church? You? Me? Why does this necessarily need to be "primitive," as you suggest?

As you said, there's no way of knowing whether this was divinely inspired. At least not yet. But I think we make a mistake when we start calling people "Pat Robertson" and dismissing the possibility that this could be a very real message from God.

I appreciate your tempered assessment of this, but I would challenge you. I think to dismiss this as purely "

You bring up some interesting points. But why arbitrarily pick the weather as a sign from God? Wouldn't it be just as valid to say that the ECLA considering gay or lesbian clergy is God at work?

I use the word "primitive" not so much as a pejorative than as a historical description. Frankly, I don't see how it is controversial to say so. Perhaps it's just my own experience but this stuff is pretty much Old Testament 101 in most seminaries. Attributing signs from God to meteorological phenomena comes from a time when we humans didn't understand the weather. The God I meet in Jesus is much more expansive than the tribal storm God that some of the ancient traditions of Israel, Robertson and Piper seem to espouse.

I believe we need to take those weather stories seriously but not literally, as many others have said. The question is, what do they mean?

Why the surprise that an evangelical pastor would consider the weather to be a sign from God that we should "turn from the approval of sin"? To expect logic from fanatics seems fanciful and downright foolish. I would venture that, not only may there be a lack of understanding of the weather, but an inherent lack of understanding of human sexuality too. Storms happen, homosexuals exist (and have since the time when "we humans didn't understand the weather), and I seriously doubt that God is pitting one against the other. I suspect he has better things to do.

If Christians revert to interpreting events as nebulous and random as the weather for signs from God, I fear we are going down a path far more dangerous than any having to do with sexuality."

I think that this couldn't be more truthful. Let's look at the big picture then.

I think that ultimately, when the whole picture is looked at we are left wrestling with the two questions proposed within your post Don. The first is the title for the post itself: 'Do we still believe in a Storm God?' which goes deep into asking if our conception of God is simply to answer otherwise unanswerable questions of this reality we find ourselves in. The second question, which you bookend the post with is as follows: assuming that God is bigger than, more expansive than a 'how do tigers get their stripes' God, then "What do we do with all those weather-related stories from the Bible?" I appreciate the humbleness in making sure to address that there is an inherent tension in our perception of God. To be honest, the more appropriate question is how on Earth (there might be a hint of intentional irony in that phrase) we could ever think to propose that their wouldn't be that tension, because to assume so would be to assume that we could fully understand this God that created, sustains, and has a hope and purpose for us.

So, at the basic level we are left with two questions: neither fully answered. My only concern with what has been said thusfar is the seemingly weighted way in which those two questions (which I feel have equal significance, relevance, and implications in how our theology expresses itself) are addressed. One question receives 90% of the post while the other is given more as an aside in the last sentence. I feel that in some sense the response within the post might be so weighted in one direction due to the nature of the statement it is responding to. My only fear is that in responding as such, we only increase the polarization that rips the soul of followers of Christ in our incredibly individualized culture.

If we believe (as I feel is evidenced throughout the narrative of God's interaction with His creation) that God is a God who often invades the normalcy of physical law and fixed time to demonstrate to us that there is something beyond and bigger than what we can see, feel, taste, touch and hear then how can we claim that such instances are outside of God's doing so? If we feel that such an interpretation of God (a God who could cause a tornado to influence a tangible reality - to either punish or warn) seems historically primitive, then how can we reconcile the numerous instances scripture indicates such 'super-natural' events occurring as the means through which God speaks to His people let alone the invasion of our tangible reality by God (the incarnation, God with us as Jesus) upon which our hope rests?

It is dangerous (incredibly) to state that God's will was behind a tornado simply due to a correlation of time and proximity. However to also say that our God is above such invasions is equally dangerous (I think). To do this either implicitly through weight of time alloted to address either of the two principle questions over the other, or to do it explicitly in words which, though they may perhaps be justifiable from an intellectual perspective, obviously illicit deep cultural reactions in each of us (I can't remember the last time I was called superstitious or primitive, even if it was in a historical context, and walked away feeling as if the person who had made the remark respected my thoughts or position) we do an injustice to how we humbly approach the second question.

It's good to address the first question (which I think you did from a healthy and challenging perspective. It's also necessary, if we ask the first, to address the second equally. Did I squirm reading John Piper's response to the tornado? Yes (very much so). Did I squirm reading your conclusions in the second to last paragraph? Yes (probably not as much as when I read Piper's, but my stomach tightened up). Can I provide an answer to both questions that satisfies everyone (let alone myself)? No.

So I put the concluding question of the post, how we wrestle with these accounts of God's intrusion into our world in tangible ways, back on the table in hopes of a conversation.

Honestly I think that we will find ourselves without concrete answers either way. God is both the Storm God and yet not a god that invites his creation exist, create, and redeem alongside Him (note the implicit way in which God in a sense steps back in doing so). I think to lean too far either way is to claim truth that we cannot, in fairness, claim. God bless the paradox (for some reason, though my soul may never fully understand, He seems to already do so...)

I apologize for the length of this (I am somewhat new to all this - is it against blog etiquette to post a response that is longer than the initial post...) Also, I know that I cannot claim to be the end thought on such a matter, so I certainly invite response.

Thanks for the very thoughtful post, Jamie. Responses like yours provoke the kind of discussion I envisioned for this blog. To be honest, I never delved as deep into the last question because I had to get back to work :-). It was more of an afterthought. I will probably post more on that question in a couple of days.

At this point, I would only reply that from questioning the historicity of stories, or the idea that they were intended to be taken as history, of some so-called supernatural events or interventions, it does not necessarily follow that one questions the reality of the Incarnation. Much of the power and hope of the Incarnation stems from its ordinariness.

I'll definitely explore the question of what to with all those weather stories in the near future.

To make a brief correction to my last post. In the second to last paragraph, where I make the statement that 'God is both...' the intention is to say that He is both a God that seems to place himself within the tangible stream of time that we are cognizant of, and a God that steps back to allow us to co-author, co-create alongside him. The word 'not' after the word 'yet' shouldn't be in the sentence.

In brief, in order to allow you to fully respond from earlier without my 'cutting you off', I would say that I am on the same page with everything you have said thusfar in your response. I agree that questioning historicity doesn't inherently undermine the reality of the incarnation. I am looking forward to hearing more. I just wanted to make the correction to my own post.

Upon receiving the news that the ELCA passed the resolution allowing openly gay and lesbian people to serve as rostered leaders of the church, Jeff Lutes, the Executive Director of "Soulforce" stated, "God is smiling". As a man clearly on the side of gay rights, it is not surprising that he would feel as though God were smiling in approval of this "historic" decision. Just as it is not in the least surprising that an evangelical paster might feel as though a sudden storm was a sign of God's disapproval. Ask any person who professes faith in God and they will give you their opinion of God's opinion and I bet it will mesh with their own.
I'm certainly no expert on scripture, but it seems to me that the super-natural events that the men of that time wrote about may be a reflection, not of God's interaction with humankind, but of their own limited knowledge of science and the natural world.
I think that, as mere human beings we interpret all manner of experiences through the lens of our own culture, interests, biases, and that ultimately these interpretations have very little to do with God.
Did He send a storm? Is he smiling? Is He gearing up for a cataclysmic response to this "promotion of behaviours that lead to destruction?" Personally I think He's just shaking his head.

I agree, Lisa. There is always the danger of seeing events we like as signs of God's approval and events we dislike as God's warnings. I'm thinking about what useful thing we can say about how God acts. Surely God must be amused by our feeble attempts to claim He's on our side. But, if He's just shaking his head or uninvolved, he becomes almost superfluous. But that will be a whole other post.

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