Today, I am continuing my series of posts on popular memes dealing with religion and Christianity. Click here for the last post in this series, where I discussed the “One Less God” meme. In this post, I would like to discuss another popular meme. The “churches with lightning rods” meme.
The Churches With Lightning Rods Meme
This is a meme that I only recently ran into for the first time, but then I started seeing it more and more. It finds it’s inspiration in a quote from Doug McLeod. There are a few different phrasings that are out there but here is one that is just the quote verbatim.
The idea appears to be that God would obviously be able to keep lightning from hitting his churches. So, why go through the hassle of installing a lightning rod? This must be because you have a lack of confidence. Either in your belief that God exists in the first place, in his ability to direct lightning bolts, or even in his goodness that he would want to protect his believers. Like all good memes, it’s a catchy, quippy, little saying that is going to stick around in the minds of whoever reads or hears it. But is there anything to it? What’s under the surface of this meme?
The Problem of Evil Retold
Breaking down this meme, we can see that it is essentially a twist on the problem of evil. In fact, it is somewhat trivial to phrase it just like Epicurus phrased the problem.
Is God able to prevent church lightning strikes but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he willing but not able? Then he is not all-powerful.
Is he both willing and able? Then whence cometh lightening rods?
Now, the problem of evil is not the simplest argument to try to refute. So, since this meme is an offshoot of that argument, this meme seems to be stronger than the one we have already discussed. But there is one way we may be able to address this problem that is almost as quippy as the meme itself.
God Provides Lightning Rods
Maybe lightning rods are simply God’s way of protecting churches from lightning strikes? If God provides protection from lightning strikes in the form of a scientific discovery, then churches would be rather foolish not avail themselves of such protection.I don’t see anything contradictory about that solution. The atheist may think that God deals only in the miraculous. But, I think there is good ground to say that God can work either directly or indirectly through men making scientific discoveries.
So are churches just lacking confidence when they install lightning rods? No, they are making use of a God provided means of protection. It seems the same train of thought would lead to the conclusion that visiting the emergency room after a life-threatening accident is also lack of confidence. But perhaps God desires to save through the training, knowledge, and skill of doctors that he prepared beforehand for just that purpose. Why demand not only that God saves you, but that he saves you in a miraculous way?
More To The Story
However, I don’t think this fully addresses the meme. Before lightning rods, lightning was actually striking churches. In fact, since churches were typically the tallest buildings in the town, lightning hit churches more often than other buildings. Why would God allow this to happen to his churches? Especially at a higher rate than it happens to others? This is essentially the problem of evil. Why does God allow bad things to happen, even to good people?
The problem of evil deserves its own article. And I am sure it will get one from me eventually. But I will quickly address it now, since it relates so closely to this topic. Whenever asking the question “Why would God….” we have to accept that answer will most often be, “I don’t know”. This might seem like a cop out, but we really shouldn’t expect anything less. If we could fully comprehend the ways of God, then I’d have serious doubts about his intelligence. God is working in a world with free agents and he wants to maintain that freedom. That means that he must sometimes allow bad things to happen. God’s power, wisdom, knowledge and goodness all work together to create an outcome that is good. Even if we cannot fathom how all it all works together for good, we know that he can.
So why would God allow lightning to strike a church? We can’t be sure. So we will continue to make use of every provision God has given us, including lightning rods. And if they should fail, we can remain confident that God is in control and that he is working for good even in our sorrows.