I expect that at some point in our lives, maybe as children, we may have had a mental image of God sitting on a cloud watching over us all, possibly lobbing the odd thunderbolt now and again when he got cross. Perhaps some of you still have that mental image. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve all seen paintings that depict God sitting on a cloud and if we look at scripture, we see that clouds and Christianity have always gone hand in hand right from the earliest days.
In Genesis we read the story of Noah where the storm clouds gathered and it rained non stop for forty days and nights. In Exodus, God appears in a cloud on Mount Sinai, and he led the Israelites in a pillar of cloud.
In the New Testament we see Jesus at the Transfiguration being enveloped by a cloud and at the ascension he was received into a cloud as he went up to heaven.
Although the image of God on a cloud might be seen as a romantic view, it also reminds us that the sky and what lies beyond is still very much part of God’s creation and this is emphasised in a Eucharistic Prayer used by the American Episcopal Church that says
“At your command all things came to be: The vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets on their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home”.
It then goes on to say
“From the primal elements, you brought forth the human race and blessed us with memory, reason and skill. You made us the rulers of creation. But we turned against you and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another”
So, how have we used these God given gifts of memory, reason and skill? Well, when it comes to looking after our planet, or more accurately, God’s planet on which we are tenants, not very well.
We have all noticed how changeable and erratic the weather can be. We go from one extreme to the other where we can be in a heatwave followed by torrential rain where the amount of rain falling in one day is what would usually be considered normal for an entire month.
Again, if we look at scripture, we see that bad weather was often regarded as being a punishment from God. I’ve already mentioned the familiar story of Noah where God sent a flood to punish a sinful world, Isaiah speaks of darkened skies, with the stars and sun not showing their light, displaying the wrath of God, and the book of Jonah tells how God sent a storm to punish Jonah who was running away from him.
It’s very easy to write these things off as ancient superstition, but how we see the sky and the weather is a good way to see our relationship with God and His creation and, indeed, our own responsibility.
To just say that bad weather is a punishment from God would be very simplistic, but in a way it is. I’m sure we all remember as children something horrible happening – something like getting hurt after falling off a bike when riding too fast or getting into trouble at school for not doing your homework – and an adult saying something along the lines of “well it’s your own fault – you brough it upon yourself”. Well, that’s sort of what’s happening with our climate.
What happens with our weather has less to do with God’s behaviour but more to do with our own behaviour. It’s a sad reality that a changing climate is turning the sky more volatile and violent.
I’m sure that all of us are aware that clouds are formed of water vapour. As the sun warms the earth, currents of warm air known as Thermals rise up towards the sky, taking with them tiny, invisible droplets of moisture, each if them measuring a few thousandths of a millimetre across. These go on to form clouds and when you look up at a white, fluffy cloud, remember that it’s made up of these tiny droplets – about 10 billion droplets per cubic metre.
These clouds can grow though, and the nice, attractive fluffy clouds merge together to form large grey clouds. These clouds also grow to form even larger clouds and so it goes on. These storm clouds are what cause torrential downpours, hail, snowstorms, lightning, gales, tornadoes and hurricanes. Although these types of extreme weather have always been around, they are becoming more common and more extreme.
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the greenhouse effect. What happens is that the sun’s energy reaches the edge of the earth’s atmosphere. Some of this is reflected back into space and the rest is absorbed by the oceans and the land heating the earth. That heat the radiates back from the earth towards space, taking with it those tiny droplets of water that I’ve already mentioned. Some of this heat is trapped by what are known as greenhouse gases in the atmosphere keeping the earth warm enough to sustain life.
So far so good. But human activities such as burning fossil fuels and destroying large areas of forestation are increasing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.
With more heat being generated from global warming, this causes more moisture to rise up from the earth making these huge super clouds far more common along with their associated weather causing damage, destruction and even loss of life.
As I said earlier, we are merely tenants on this planet. We have been entrusted to look after God’s creation. Last week we were thinking of the oceans and the week before that the earth. Although this week we’ve been concentrating on the sky, we can see that the land, the sea and the sky are all inextricably linked as part of God’s creation. The natural cycle of the sun warming the earth and that warmth sending moisture back up into the sky we need to be aware that what we pollute on earth we also pollute the sky and, as we all know, what goes up must come down.
So is this a punishment from God? Well, I don’t believe so – or not directly anyway, but I am sure that God is saddened by our behaviour that is causing so much damage to his creation. We ask forgiveness for this behaviour, just as we did at the beginning of Mass this morning and we pray that God will give us strength to work together to protect this world he has given us.