‘God Blew, and They Were Scattered’

God may or may not have played a role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada. What mattered is that everyone at the time thought he did. /

The connection between God and the wind is as old as Genesis 2:7: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (NIV). In Exodus 14 a strong wind enabled the Israelites to cross the Red Sea, and in 2 Kings God whisked Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. All four gospels attest to Jesus’ control over the wind when he calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit arrived with a sound “like the blowing of a violent wind,” bringing tongues of fire. Jesus enigmatically likened Christian life to the movement of air, telling Nicodemus in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

The essential ambiguity of wind did not prevent Christians in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the early modern period from trying to determine where the Spirit was blowing, and why. Legally, storms were classified as “acts of God” from Roman times onward, and the interpretation of celestial and weather phenomena constituted a lively branch of the study of miracles. The Reformation took place around the beginning of modern science, and early Protestants showed some interest in separating natural from supernatural occurrences. John Calvin, for example, mocked the Roman Catholics who attempted to confirm their faith with constant miracles. Over in Germany in the second half of the 16th century, however, a profusion of Wunderzeichenbücher, or “wonder-sign books,” put a Protestant, apocalyptic spin on such apparitions as blood rain, comets, and ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 27 / July 23, 2015
  1. Editors’ Note

    Issue 27 (our first anniversary!): Peregrine falcons, the storm that changed Western Christianity, and a wonderful word after waiting. /

  2. Finding Flight with the Falcons

    Considering the peregrine, who are we to think we belong in the air? /

  3. Perhaps This Mid-May

    28 cycles of waiting. Then a final message. /

  4. Width, Length, Height, Depth

    ‘I can look nowhere / but up the sheer red walls’ /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 27: Links to amazing stuff /

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