Date: March 19, 2017
Text – Job 37:1-5
When I was in the middle school, I often rode my bike to the school. My house was in a countryside where the bus came only 7 times per day. Most of the kids had to walk to the school for 1 hour and 20 minutes. It is a wonderful time of fellowship speaking with one another. But from time to time, I was late in the morning and had to ride my bike, which only took me 25 minutes to the school. The trouble was that it would rain in the afternoon involving thunder and lightning. My trip back home riding on the bike which is mostly metal was basically a praying time. “Lord, I was not a good son to my parents. I did not treat my younger brother, as I should. I was thinking about the pretty girl from youth group while my father was preaching. But I have so many things to do in this world. If you spare my life this time, I will try to be a better son, brother, and Christian.” Somehow, I took the thunder and lighting as a sign of God’s speaking to me.
When we see the lightning and hear the thunder, we are often filled with awe or even fear. There are about 10 strike of lighting on Earth’s surface every single second. And every bolt can contain up to one billion volts of electricity. A lightning bolt can be 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about five times hotter than the surface of the sun. And the lightning involves the thunder that is so loud shaking our ears. There is something about the thunder and lightning in a way that human history has often interpreted them as an instrument to convey the voice of God. Zeus, the god among the Greeks, is the god of thunder. Tahundi and Ivriz among the Anatolian cultures, and Baal among the Canaanites. One of the popular movies these days, Thor, also depicts a god that controls thunder. Thunder and lighting are powerful, majestic, loud, and out of control.
In the Hebrew culture, thunder and lightning were also seen as the voices of God. In Job 37, one of Job’s friends, Elihu, says, “Listen, listen to the thunder of God’s voice and the rumbling that comes from God’s mouth. God thunders with God’s majestic voice and God does not restrain the lightning when God’s voice is heard.” Although many Hebrew Bible scholars still debate, the consensus is that the story of Job is more like a saga to struggle with theological question, “Why do bad things happen to good people? Where do we find the presence of God in the midst of evil?” After Job lost his children, his property, and even his health, his three friends came and comforted him by staying silent for seven days. And the theological debate comes here. Elihu argues that human beings cannot fathom God because God is great in power and justice.
While thunder and lightning are mysterious even to the scientist, there are people who are struck by lightning. According to National Weather Service, there are about 318 million people in the U.S. in 2016. For the past 10 years, there are 310 people who were struck by lightning. (31 died and 279 injured) So, the odds of being struck by lightning are about 1 in million. It is very unlikely to happen to any of us but when that happens, I am sure that the impact is so deep and life-changing. And fro time to time, I believe that being thunderstruck happens to us in a mysterious way. I still remember Ted, a gentleman who was in his 90s, from my former church. Everytime I went to see him, he would tell me how he met his wife, June, in Toronto, Canada, how they rode the bus together, fell in love with each other, and gave her the first kiss. His body was aging. But his mind was sharp enough to tell the first moment of meeting his wife. It was electrifying for him.
Just like lightning can split a tree causing it to die in flame, when we are thunderstruck, it changes our lives completely. It alters our identity. In Gifts of the Dark Wood, Eric Elnes believes that being thunderstruck is like a sudden flash of insight or awareness that rocks our whole world. God may speak to us in audible voice. God sometimes could call us through our inner voice. But when we sense that, it is so electrifying that it changes who we are. It can be overwhelming in the first place. It can be seen as altering our life course. But we realize that being thunderstruck can call us to be authentic to whom we are meant to be. Faithful to what God calls us to be. It may not be possible to prove it scientifically with numbers. But being thunderstruck by the Holy Spirit goes beyond individual and impacts the community and world.
When Saul was struck by the light on his way to Damascus, he heard the voice of Christ saying, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He answered, “Do I know you?” “It is me, Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” While Saul was struck by the light and having conversation with the risen Christ, his company did not see anything or hear anything. But he was completely changed with new name – Paul. He became the apostle for the gentiles spreading the Good News in the world. Such is the history of Methodism. When John Wesley was attending a Moravian meeting on Aldersgate in 1738, he felt that his heart was strangely warmed. He felt converted in his heart and started to preach boldly that Christ is the One who forgives us our sins and reconciles us with God. The movement of Methodism started spreading not only in England, but also Europe and America.
Being thunderstruck did not happen to Paul or Wesley because of their effort. Rather, as lightning strikes first, the Holy Spirit comes to us, strikes us, and dramatically changes who we are. When black slaves suffered under oppression, they knew that they were nobody. They were stripped down their names, separated from their families, and suffered heavy york. But when they secretly got together in the woods to worship God, they knew that God touched them and gave them new identity – they were sons and daughters of God who created them in God’s image. So, one of the black gospel music goes like this, “I know I’ve been changed I know I’ve been changed I know I’ve been changed Angels in Heaven done signed my name.” Despite the thorny and rocky road ahead, they knew that God was not done with them but certainly lead them through the wilderness to finally arrive in the Promised Land.
Have you also been thunderstruck? Just like the odds of being thunderstruck literally, it may not happen on a daily basis. But when it happens, it completely changes who you are. If it is God who strikes us with thunder and lightning, we feel closer to God and understand what purpose God has in our lives. I have such an experience. When I was junior in college, I was still clueless not knowing what to do with my life. I was at seminary studying theology but did not have conviction that I was at the right place. My father, at that time, happened to minister to a struggling congregation in urban setting. He asked me to work for him as assistant pastor mainly working with the Sunday school. Every Sunday, I was supposed to lead the worship service for little children and preach to them. What a misery it was for me! I felt that I had nothing to offer because I was not even sure that I believed in God.
And then I felt thunderstruck. One day, I and my family went to visit my younger brother who was serving in the military. On our way back home, we had a terrible car accident. Our car crashed the car in front of us. And the car behind us crashed us at the speed of 70 miles per hour. Just one split moment, I thought that we all died that afternoon. But miraculously everyone survived the horrible car accident. After reporting the accident to the police officers, we got into the car. My father said, “Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for sparing our lives today. You have a reason to give us another day. Let us not take our lives for granted but count our blessings everyday.” His voice was trembling and I really felt that some miraculous power saved my life that day. I felt that my life changed completely.
I started to read the Bible not because I felt judged by God. But I wanted to. I started to pray to God because I felt deeply connected with God. A month later, I was sleeping in my room. At dawn, I felt that my heart was beating so loudly. And I said, “God, help me.” And out of the pounding, a voice came to me calling my name. “Song Bok, Song Bok.” For the split moment, I intuitively knew that this was the voice of God that I had been waiting for so many years. I answered, “Here I am, Lord. Please speak to me.” And the voice responded, “You know, son? I love you very much.” And I responded back, “I love you too, Lord.” “Don’t worry. I will be with you until the end.” I still do not know if it was a vision or dream. But that completely changed who I was. That Sunday, I went to the church and stood before the Sunday school children and said, “Hey, kids. I met God last night.” And I could see that the eyes of children were filled with wonders and excitement.
I confess with you that from time to time, I wonder what I am doing as pastor when I feel tired, goes through conflict, or lack in ministerial skills. But just like thunder reverberates, my personal encounter of God always brings me back knowing that it was God who first sought me and changed me. And I invite you to think about your own moment of being thunderstruck in your life journey. It could be the audible voice of God. It could be inner voice, or even insight that completely changed who you are. Although we cannot understand clearly how it happened to us, we discern that we were thunderstruck at the moment so that God could meet us, speak to us, and call us. It might have been a time when you felt resolve about a decision, an “a-ah!” or it may have been simply a time when you were awed by God’s presence through nature, through a person or an incident and you experienced peace and joy, if only momentary. Take about 2 minutes each to share. If you would prefer simply reflecting inwardly or journaling, you are welcome to do that.