We have been having a warmer than usual winter, with flooding and thunder even in December. Thunder always has a way of getting our attention — it’s something you are aware of, even if your eyes are closed.
This weekend, we celebrate the feast of the Lord’s Baptism by John in the Jordan River. This year, we hear the story as recorded in Luke’s Gospel, but each of the other three Gospels tells us of the event. (Mt 3:13-17, Mk 1:9-11 and Jn 1:29-33.) Each of them highlights different details, because the evangelist is speaking to different audiences about the same event.
In John’s Gospel, the voice of God is described as thunder by those who heard it.
We are not the only people to correlate thunder with God’s voice. Many cultures have referred to thunder as representing divine power: the ancient Greeks attributed thunder and lightning to the chief god, Zeus (who was called Jupiter by the Romans); for the Vikings, the Norse god, Thor, controlled thunder; and among many Native American people, the thunderbird was considered to have divine power.
From ancient times, the Jewish people have also referred to God’s voice as thunder — see Job 37:2-5 and 2 Sam 22:14 as examples. The Hebrew phrase Bath Kol (“daughter of voice”) is used to refer to how God speaks, especially when there is no prophet to interpret the words. The Bath Kol can come in many forms — from actual words to an echo and ranging from loud to soft (think of Elijah’s “still, small voice” outside his mountain cave).
Take a moment to recall the various ways you may have heard God speaking in your life. Has it seemed as loud as thunder, or as subtle as a breeze? If you listen closely right now, can you sense God’s presence?
Remember that God the Father is invisible, never to be seen by human eyes. What cannot be seen, though, can be heard. That is why the Gospels let us hear the Father’s voice when the Son is revealed. The same thing happens in the Gospel readings about the Transfiguration.
Look around the church today and try to find representations of God the Father, or God the Holy Spirit. You may see things like fire or wind or a dove, or light breaking through the clouds of heaven. Sometimes an eye is used to symbolize God the Father or a hand or even a finger – since God the Father is the creator.
If you happen to hear thunder during January — whether in rainstorms or as thunder snow — take a moment to think of God, who just might be trying to say something to you.
Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of multiple books.