Whenever there was a thunderstorm my granny used to say that it was a sign that God must be angry with the world. She was not alone in holding to understandings like this. In fact, throughout history, cultures of every hue have searched for signs of divine preference, divine activity or indeed divine judgement / retribution in the natural world.
Comets, meteors, eclipses of the sun or moon, or any unusual cosmological or even meteorological occurrence were often seen as the harbinger of impending doom or, occasionally, of divine favour.
And it appears that even Jesus was not immune from recognising natural occurrences playing a heralding role. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.”
According to the Bible, Daniel literally saw the finger of God writing on the wall; metaphorically Jesus is here, recognising the ability to see the divine message, written not on a plastered wall but on the bigger canvas of the natural world.
But is Jesus imploring his followers to become ardent observers of the celestial bodies? Is he, in effect, calling for us to become astrologers? Surely not!
Jesus so often spoke in parables, used metaphors and was not averse to using hyperbolic exaggeration, i.e. He mostly avoided literal prose. I do not believe that to go around staring into the sky awaiting these signs is what he intended. Taking these words of his literally, together with the following image of the “Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” has led to a theology which exalted this future coming of an imperial Christ sitting in judgement of the world. Did the itinerant Nazarene preacher, surrounded by his little band of followers really foresee the Byzantine image of Pantocrator that adorned so many golden domes? I’m not so sure. And I’m not so sure that He would wholly approve.
I think rather the significance of the warnings of Jesus were more prosaic and mundane: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy”. The big signs, the flashy lights and the fireworks all have their place but when it comes down to the important things, do not let your hearts become drowsy!
Rather than looking to the stars, look into your heart and strive to remain ‘vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength’ to deal with whatever comes.
Just as my granny saw divine warnings in thunder and lightning, so have many, many others given prominence to the signs that they see in the sky and the natural world.
While I think it is important to see the signs, it’s more important to take action and to not let your hearts grow drowsy.
Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/storm-lightning-weather-nature-sky-730653/ BrinWeins Pixabay