POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Who is Behind the Storms?

This Wednesday Night I heard someone answer a question associated with the God’s relationship to natural disasters (violent storms, earthquakes, etc.) The obvious concern was God’s involvement or lack thereof with events like the recent tsunami disaster in Asia. The statement was made in reference to Jesus calming the storm in the gospels (we will look at the account in Mark 4:35-41). The argument went sort of like this:
  1. Jesus “rebukes” the wind and the waves, If God the Father was the “cause” of the storm, Jesus would be in effect “rebuking the work of God”
  2. The rebuke is personal in nature “Peace, Be Still!” so it must not have been directed at nonpersonal things like “wind and waves”
  3. Therefore a personal agency, other than God, who could control the forces of nature was at play…the inference from here was that it was demonic forces at work

Now we usually would think of natural events having the following causes. These are the usual options offered:

  • God is directly causing such things as weather patterns
  • Some other personal agency – perhaps of nefarious character – like demons, is be behind such natural events - especially when they are destructive
  • Nobody is behind this, God is not causing the normal course of nature which happens according natural law

How do these options accord with the Biblical witness? Let us first look at each in turn.

  • First, the Bible clearly teaches that God is at times directly behind weather (Ps 148:1-8, Ps 135:7, Job 37:6–13).
  • Second, although it is not clear, it does appear that the forces of darkness can use natural phenomena to wreak havoc on the earth (Job 1,2) Although this power may simply be derivative from divine providence.
  • Finally what of option that “Nobody” causes natural events? While it is quite true that there are certain physical laws at work in natural phenomena (plate tectonics, the mantle pressing upward on portions of he earth's crust, pressure and temperature differentials in the atmosphere) a world in which God has nothing to do with the course of nature is foreign to the Biblical witness. It is the world of deistic belief which God exercises no active control in the courses of nature. The Biblical God however, upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb 1:3) and in Him all things hold together (Col 1:17). Now the normal course of Providence is that the universe operates according to regularities created by God. The operation of such natural processes is a normal Providence, but providence nonetheless, for indeed the design of nature was itself the work of God. So even the natural laws are derivative from the design of God. It is my belief that most natural phenomenon are of this species - caused by the normal mode of Providence - the design of nature which is directed by the mind of God.

Now to the argument that it must have been demonic forces behind the storm in Mark 4:35-41. We would do well to have the text before us:

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” - Mark 4:35-41 (ESV)

Now to the argument with each part taken in turn:

Jesus “rebukes” the wind and the waves, If God the Father was the “cause” of the storm, Jesus would be in effect “rebuking the work of God”

Is it the case that if a rebuke was aimed at the wind and the sea that the cause of the storm could not have been God. This dilemma is solved quite easily. Another option would be that God the Father and God the Son were working in concert to demonstrate something of the Son’s nature – that he indeed had the power to calm physical storms on the seas. It could very well have been God’s plan to bring a storm SO THAT the Son could rebuke it, demonstrating that just a word from the Son would calm the winds and the stormy waters. Let us use an illustration from baseball to further make the point. Say for instance that God wanted to show off the fact that Jesus was the best hitter of baseballs in the universe. He could throw the most ridiculously hard to hit pitches to the best hitters in the world all day long, striking each of them out in turn. Now, up steps Jesus to the plate and God throws the same pitches. This time, one by one, Jesus knocks them out of the park. Was Jesus thwarting the pitches of his Father? Or was there a demonstration of the powers of the Son? I think the scenario that God brought the storm of Mark 4, most likely through normal providence, so that Jesus would rebuke it publicly in front of the disciples. Now could the storm be of demonic origin? I suppose it is possible, but not because God as the cause was “ruled out” by Jesus “rebuking” a storm.

The rebuke is personal in nature “Peace, Be Still!” so it must not have been directed at non-Personal things like “wind and waves”

The second premise is not so certain either. Many times in the Biblical witness we see God commanding non-personal things. The stars are said to be “led out by God” and that he “calls them each by name.” (Is 40:26, Ps 147:4); In the temptation of Jesus in Matt 4, the devil seems to think that it is well within Jesus’ power to “command stones to become bread” – a situation where speaking to a non-personal object. Jesus says during his triumphal entry to Jerusalem that “If the people did not praise him, the rocks would do so in their place” – Whether or not this means a literal rock choir would have broken out in song is irrelevant, the fact remains that “God commanding non-personal things to do, become, etc.” is not a rare thing in the Biblical witness. In fact, God speaks to nothing and creates all space and time. But perhaps the strongest evidence that the rebuke in Mark 4 was indeed aimed at the “wind and waves” is in the text itself – in the very response of the disciples. What did they say? What was there conclusion? They were marveling in great amazement at the Son of God with the question “Who is this, that even the wind and waves obey him.” The point of the text is precisely the fact that wind and waves do not obey the voices of men…but they did obey this man. Who is it that does this sort of thing? Very God of Very God.

Therefore a personal agency, other than God, who could control the forces of nature was at play…the inference from here was that it was demonic forces at work.

This conclusion seems far from necessary after the failure of the first two premises of the argument. Now is it possible that a nefarious force caused a storm, Jesus rebuked these demons, and the storm ceased? Yes, but such seems to be reading way too much into the text from mere speculation. It is a much more natural reading, and fits the broader, clear context of Scripture, to assume the storm came upon the disciples providentially (at that time, in that place, when they were in a boat - yet through secondary causes of air masses colliding, etc.) so that the glory of Jesus would be revealed to the disciples so that they would have faith in Him as the unique Son of God – for only God can give orders to wind and waves and see to it that they obey.