A caricature of God that many of us shed in our early-teens is that, if we do something really bad, we’ll get struck with lightning.
We soon discover that it’s more likely for that to happen if we challenge a thunderstorm with a golf club, fishing rod, or umbrella.
I remember the day my daughter and I were fishing on a quiet lake when, under blue skies, a flash of lightning and crash of thunder scared the daylights out of us. I’d heard of lightning reaching out ahead of a storm, but had never experienced it before.
In any case, it doesn’t take most of us long to discover that, whatever the mysteries of lightning, it is not a predictable arrow in the hand of an angry God. The result is that we tend to be emboldened in thinking that we can violate our conscience, and the laws of God, without being struck dead–as so many cartoons have portrayed.
But that raises a question. Does the Bible itself try to scare us into obedience? It begins with the warning to our first parents that “in the day you eat of that tree, you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). In fact, Adam and Eve lived for a long time after eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
But then I’m also thinking of thinking of two other events, one that happened just after the children of Israel came into the promised land, and the other, at the dawn of the church age.
In the first, a man named Achan disobeys God by keeping some of the spoils of the fall of Jericho for himself (Joshua 7). According to the Bible, by an act of God, he is soon found out and subjected along with his family to a quick death. The second incident happens to a couple named Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). According to the book of Acts they sell a piece of property and say that they are giving all of the proceeds to the church. (They actually were under no obligation to give anything). But they play the hypocrite, make like they are giving it all, and then secretly pocket some of the sale for themselves. Within hours, both fall dead. Acts 5:11 says that “Great fear came upon all the church”. Yet over time, there was no pattern of such a quick death. Others played the hypocrite, or the rebel, without getting struck by lightning.
So, If someone had said, remember what happened to Achan, or to Ananias and Sapphira. If you sin, God will strike you dead, the threat soon would have become a talking point of unbelievers. Before long, someone would have tested the warning and found it to be an empty threat. The fear of God would soon have been something to laugh at.
So let’s talk about it. What do you think? Why, according to the Bible, did God–at the beginning of each era– make such warnings– or carry out a threat–without making the result a predictable pattern? Is that something you’ve thought about?