It’s like rain on your wedding day. It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid. It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? —“Ironic” by Alanis Morissette
No one wants to get married on a rainy day. That’s even more true where I live in Northern California. Many of the weddings are outside. I’m not sure it’s ironic, but it sure is inconvenient.
However, if you are interested in a destination wedding in France, the English company Oliver’s Travels has you covered. For a mere hundred thousand pounds, they will guarantee you a rain free wedding. They claim their advanced technology of cloud bursting and seeding allows them to control the weather on your special day.
Apart from Oliver’s ambitious claims, controlling the weather is not something we seem to be very capable of doing. In fact, given all the things we can control in the world around us, it is a bit surprising for weather to continue operations without our consent.
The ancients knew this intimately. That’s why these words were a comfort to them.
And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”— Genesis 1:6
A basic understanding of ancient Near Eastern cosmology puts these words in context. Our ancestors believed the land they lived on was a floating island of soil. Underneath were the depths of water. On either side of the land were the waters of the oceans. Above the sky were the waters of the heavens. They were held in place by a huge dome they called “the expanse.”
We can understand arriving at such a view of the world from pure observations. Dig deep enough and you find water. At the edge of the land, you find water. And occasionally water falls from the sky, which must mean two things. Water is up there and something keeps it from falling most of the time.
These words in Genesis declare the God of Israel responsible for putting that something up there. He is also the one who opens and closes the barrier allowing water to fall when it pleases him. He placed the expanse. He controls the gates.
Is it any surprise that the Bible begins with a discussion about the weather? Isn’t that how most of our conversations get started? The weather is a guaranteed shared experience. We’re all interested in talking about it because all of our lives are affected by it.
Today our experience of weather is mostly a matter of convenience. But for the ancients, it was literally a matter of life and death. Their livelihood depended on reliable weather. A surprise storm could bankrupt them or destroy their family in a matter of minutes.
Knowing the handle of the gates was held by the hand of their would have been a great comfort to them. God controls the most fundamental circumstance that dominated their lives and determined their experience.
God still controls the weather.
Not that we haven’t tried to wrest control away from him.
To date, our technology has focused on predicting the weather. We want to anticipate what’s to come. In April 2017, the passage of a massive weather forecast improvement bill prompted Oklahoma Representative Jim Bridenstine to say, “I congratulate President Trump for moving us closer to a day when we have zero deaths from tornadoes and severe weather events.”
Zero deaths. Really? That’s an audacious expectation. As we’ll see more and more, it’s a common expectation toward technology. Mostly, we hope that prediction will help us be the ultimate weather ready nation.
But manipulating the weather would be even better. The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program was completed at a facility in Alaska in 2007. The basic goal of this technology was to blast the atmosphere with microwave type waves in hopes of changing the weather. The program wasn’t as successful as people had hoped, and it was shut down in 2015.
Or was it?
Conspiracy theorists accuse HAARP of regulating weather in North America for most of the last decade.
Think about this claim. Can you imagine the public response if it was discovered the US Government has been secretly controlling the weather since 2007? Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Droughts. Blizzards. Floods. What would happen if people held the US Government responsible for the weather?
And yet, don’t we believe that God does just that?
After all, Job says, “He gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields.” Psalm 135:7 claims, “He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.” And Jeremiah insists, “When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens. He makes lightning for the rain, and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses.”
It’s not just about the weather. The conditions of the sky symbolize all those things which lie squarely outside of our control. It’s the job we didn’t get, the accident we couldn’t avoid, and the illness that interrupted our life. We desperately want to control those circumstances around us that remain elusive and uncontrollable.
With all the other aspects of life that I can turn a dial to adjust, I’m starting to think that I have a right to experience the kind of weather I prefer. I feel entitled to snow when I want to ski, wind when I want to sail, and sun when I want to surf.
If God is the one who controls the weather, I might just have a problem with him.
As a child, my parents drove the car. I wasn’t allowed to. I got in the back seat (more often the rear-facing fold up seat of our station wagon) and rode wherever they drove us. I didn’t have any opinions of their driving ability or anyone else on the road. I simply got in the car.
But now I’ve been driving for several decades. I consider myself a skilled and experienced driver. Consequently, I find it much harder to be a passenger. Almost impossible at times. Having become a driver, I’m no longer happy as a passenger.
The question most people ask today is not, “Does God exist?” but rather “Why does a good God let bad things happen?”
Could we owe that shift to our newfound ability to control the world around us? Do we fancy ourselves gods now and so consider we’re in a position to have an opinion on his performance? Having learned to drive, are we no longer content to be passengers?
We may be tempted to read Genesis 1:6 with condescension. Those silly ancients: they thought an expanse held the waters above the earth.
But perhaps we should read this verse with humility. After all, the rains fall and the winds blow oblivious to our preference in the matter. It is still the God of Israel who created the expanse and has his hand on the floodgates. With all our innovation, we still can’t control the thing we all experience equally together.
Will our technology free us from the tyranny of the weather? Can I be guaranteed a rain-free wedding day? Am I even right to hope for that from my technology?
I have a lot of technology at my disposal. But I still need an umbrella when it rains.
Father to five; husband to one; helping Christians engage thoughtfully as they follow Jesus Christ.
Pastor at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, CA since 2007. Graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for Oracle Corporation as a Senior Product Manager designing software solutions.