Thursday, October 28, 2010

The weather and God's sovereignty

How often do we pray about the weather? Farmers and golfers pray about the weather. People hosting picnics and parties, hunters ... we all pray about the weather. Sometimes our prayers are answered the way we want, other times not so much.

I was on the train to Seattle a few years ago and met a man from San Diego. He said, "I don't know how you people can live in this part of the world. In San Diego, if I plan a party for three years from next March, I know that the weather will be seventy degrees and sunny." I acknowledged that it might be nice to live in such a predictable environment, but then a question occurred to me. "What do people in San Diego talk about?"

The last couple days have been incredible here, and by here I mean all across the upper midwest. Meteorologists are just shaking their heads and pointing at crowded lines of isobars on the map. North Dakota has been under blizzard warnings. Indiana was at the center of a severe weather warning that impacted six states. Winds have been gusting to fifty and sixty miles an hour over the Dakotas and Minnesota.

God is sovereign, meaning he does what he wants, for the most part. A weather system like this is something he can spin off without really trying, since he has set up the earth in such a creative way with interesting dynamics like the Coriolis Effect. The weather becomes its own dynamic system, sort of like a top with its own momentum. God can set it spinning and worry about other things, though that implies that God's capacity is finite -- which it is not. So maybe God's involved in the details as well.

But my point in all this is God's sovereignty. Humans (myself included here) constantly try to manipulate our surroundings, change our circumstances, impact our lives for what we think is the better. In general, this means that I try to make my life easier, more pleasant, less challenging, less painful. But what if that's not the best thing for me? Could I even see? What if, in order to become the best person I can be, I need a difficult, even painful, challenge? I love sunny fall days, highs around sixty, lows just above freezing, not much wind, with a little shot of rain the night before to make the fallen leaves quiet enough that I can hunt effectively. What if God knows better, and what I really need is wind gusts to sixty, driving rain, and dense cloud cover?

In Acts 4 Jesus' followers go through a fascinating difficulty. Because two of them have healed a lame man in the previous chapter, they're hauled up on charges before the religious authorities, who bawl them out and tell them "Don't ever do that again!" When these disciples are finally released, they pray -- but not for protection or safety. Instead, they pray thanking God that everything is happening according to his plans, and then they pray for boldness to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus -- the very thing that got them in trouble in the first place. In their prayer they recognize God's sovereignty -- namely, that everything that happened to Jesus, and everything that is happening to them (including questioning, trial, and pretty soon, jail and beating), is happening according to God's good plans.

Do we have this confidence? Can we pray to a sovereign God, acknowledging that even if we don't like our circumstances, God is at work in them, enacting his good plans? Can we pray for boldness instead of safety? Can we pray for courage to be part of God's work rather than for pleasant weather?

I hope so. If we can't, we are likely missing out on what God is doing in the world.

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