Monday, 23 February 2015

Lent day 5

There was an intense hailstorm this morning, it persisted long enough to leave me thinking about hail and indeed the role bad weather plays in the Bible. 
For an agrarian economy a hail storm can be a real catastrophe, ruining crops before harvesting, killing young plants, even killing birds and young animals being bred for food. Hail is mentioned 38 times in scripture. Fourteen times it's in the Exodus story, where hail is one of the seven plagues visited on the Egyptians for their hardness of heart. Six times in the Psalms, either referring back to the Exodus or as part of a theophany described. Four mentions in prophetic books, and three times in the Revelation to John, also linked to judgement.

Hail is interpreted as punishment on those who are wicked and unfaithful to God. It's a very ancient and primitive image of divine energy that is being represented, going back to Canaanite religion prior to the Israelite invasion in which Ba'al was the god of storms, reminiscent of Zeus later in Greek mythology and religion.

Hebrew thinking strives constantly to avoid confusing the creature with the Creator. The divine Word, thought, intention, brings time, space, matter-energy and the laws that govern them into being. God is not to be identified with the storm but understood to be the author of storms. 

We have done well to evolve an understanding of mechanisms that make weather happen, and can forecast weather, even the threat of hail, so that protective measures can be taken. We now know better than to equate weather with judgement and punishment, even if the impact on our lives can on times be severely punishing. 

Adverse extreme weather conditions are a result of climate change exacerbated by humankind's over-reliance on energy derived from carbon sources, together with economic ambitions pursued without regard for the health of the planet's ecosystems. All are symptomatic of being out of harmony with nature, not living with true respect for this earth, without regard for the will and intention of its Creator.

Scientific rationalism, in awe of the rich complexity and mystery of the universe, still tends to confuse the Creator with the creation. Or else, the more we think we understand, the more we entertain the illusion that understanding will lead to a control over nature that makes gods of humans. 

Failure to look beyond ourselves and our universe for the Source of our being is what produces many unintended errors of perception and judgement about life on earth, with catastrophic consequences. Making a religious turn-around will not of itself fix human problems hailing down disastrously upon us in this turbulent environmental era, but it can and will renew the creative imagination to meet the challenge courageously, eyes wide open.

As Proverbs 29:18 says: "Without a vision the people perish."

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