Thinking Out Loud

April 17, 2014

Should Christians Speak of “Mother Nature?”

“Everybody talks about the weather but nobody ever does anything about it.”

“Whether it’s cold
Or whether it’s hot
We’re going to have weather
Whether or not”

We plough the fields, and scatter
the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered
by God’s almighty hand.
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft, refreshing rain. 1

… He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5:45)

In North America in terms of weather, this has been a rough winter, and possibly also where you live, but for different reasons. So it’s not surprising that many conversations over the past six months have been meteorology-related.

In Christian circles though, I’m always surprised to hear people speak of what “Mother Nature” has wrought. It seems contradictory that we would be monotheistic and yet invoke the possibility of a weather god, or weather goddess, even if in jest.

So what do I believe about the weather?

I do think that much if not all of the weather phenomena we experience is the natural consequence of living in a fallen world. When we speak questions like, “How could a loving God allow so much evil to exist?” we are usually talking about genuine evil, and not snow or drought; but it all comes under the same category. This world is broken, and we are continually adding to that brokenness through our disregard for the environment.

Is God powerless in all this? Not for a moment. I believe that God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to intervene each time someone prays, but that sometimes he holds back his hand and allows things to proceed naturally. A miracle is a miracle because it doesn’t happen every day. I don’t know if Pat Robertson really “prayed a hurricane back” from the Virginia coast in the ’70s, but I do believe that God is intervening in our planet more times than we realize. I don’t subscribe to the “clockmaker” theory that God simply “wound up” the planet and left it “ticking.”

So back to our subject.

The personification or anthropomorphizing of someone else or something else being in charge of the environment simply grates on my spiritual conscience. Sure, it’s said almost randomly when said by Christ-followers, but is it any different than the Greeks ascribing natural forces to a series of gods and goddesses each dealing with winds, and rains and heavenly signs?

In scripture this was Israel’s great failing. Their neighbors believed in gods that were specific to various aspects of life (but not all) and had power over a certain geographic area (but not all areas); and then they found themselves sometimes falling into the mindset of the dominant culture. (Thus the Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one.”)

So how do we speak of the fury of natural forces unleashing tornadoes, hurricanes, ice-storms, great heat or other manifestations of extreme weather? I have no answer. I simply don’t want to confuse things — especially among those who have not crossed the line of faith but know that I have — by invoking either Mother Nature or Father Nature or Jupiter or anyone else.

What do you think?

Do you use this phrase in conversation?

On New Year's Day 2009, Ippswich in Australia was expecting a high of +38C, which is about 100F.  Meanwhile, back at home, my Weather Network indicator on my computer is showing that we’re heading to a low of -18C, which is about -1F.   Their high temperature on a summer mid-afternoon Thursday would be occurring at the same time as my Wednesday mid-winter night. That's 101 degrees F difference. That day I was asking, "Are we even on the same planet?"

On New Year’s Day 2009, Ippswich in Australia was expecting a high of +38C, which is about 100F. Meanwhile, back at home, my Weather Network indicator on my computer was showing that we were heading to a low of -18C, which is about -1F. Their high temperature on a summer mid-afternoon Thursday would be occurring at the same time as my Wednesday mid-winter night. That’s 101 degrees F difference. That day I was asking, “Are we even on the same planet?” (The left picture was actually Bondi Beach.) Where I live, houses, cars and our collection of clothing has to withstand wind chill factors as low as -50 C (which was reached in Winnipeg several times this year, almost not needing the chill factor) and humidity index temps higher than +40 C.

1Classic hymn based on a poem published in 1782 and set to music in 1800; also the basis of the song All Good Gifts from the musical Godspell; section cited based on Psalm 147:16.

Surely, if Mother Nature had been consulted, she would never have consented to building a city in New Orleans. ~Mortimer Zuckerman

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4 Comments »

  1. This is a link to a follow-up article I wrote at Christianity 201 ~ Paul.

    Pingback by Credit Where Credit Is Due | Christianity 201 — April 17, 2014 @ 5:43 pm

  2. I’m glad you clarified the photo is Bondi, since Ipswich (Qld) does not have a beach.
    I also abhor the use of Mother Nature.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — April 17, 2014 @ 11:48 pm

  3. I think you’d get an argument (a gentle one of course) from St. Francis, whose Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon includes this:

    Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
    Mother Earth
    who sustains and governs us,
    producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

    Comment by Bill — April 19, 2014 @ 9:08 pm

    • Yes. Good point. It has reminded me of the various times the phrase crops up in poetry; from there it’s a short step to argue that the people who use the expression — even Christians — are using the phrase poetically.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — April 19, 2014 @ 10:26 pm


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