In English we prefer the ordering of certain words in doublets, for example, salt and pepper not pepper and salt; ham and eggs, heads or tails, shoes and socks, good and bad, up and down, in and out, and so on. It is the same with thunder and lightning, although the latter precedes the former in actual fact.

What is it about thunder and lightning that makes them so awe-inspiring and sometimes shocks us, especially when they occur almost simultaneously? We don’t equate thunder with God speaking, but In the Bible, we have instances of God answering in thunder (for example, after Moses speaks, in Exodus 19.19). In 1 Samuel 2.10 we read that “those who oppose the Lord will be broken. The Most High will thunder from heaven.” And in Job 37.4: “After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice. When his voice resounds, he holds nothing back.” God’s voice is very loud at times—like thunder!

I don’t know anyone named thunder, but the disciples James and John were nicknamed “the sons of thunder,” so they probably had loud voices. We all know people like that.

God is in charge of both the thunder and the lightning: In Job 38.35 God asks Job if he can command the lightning to flash and in Acts 9.3 Saul’s conversion is accompanied by a light flashing from the sky. Lightning is used figuratively to describe swiftness, brightness, God’s judgment, Christ’s return, and Satan’s fall from heaven. Thunder and lightning are different sides of the same coin, portraying God’s power and majesty 

The Kewa people in Papua New Guinea and with whom we lived for many years, commonly said “the mountains are shaking” for thunder and “fire has struck” for lightning—such times were wonderful to behold. And in Greek literature Zeus was the god of lightning and Athena the god of thunderbolts. The two words are personified as gods in the mythology of the Slavs, Norse, Finnish, Japanese, India groups and in Islam. Every culture has legends that in some manner account for thunder and lightning.

I have always been fascinated by lightning and thunder and all of us have heard stories of people struck by lightning. In Florida more people are struck by lightning than any other state, but nine out of ten will live to tell the story.

The odds of getting struck by lightning in any given year are about 1 in 300,000. Although most people survive, “the electrical discharge leaves some of them with a mark, called the Lichtenberg figure” and it will save them the expense of a tattoo.

According to the same article on the Internet, when the lightning enters the body, “it short-circuits the small electrical signals that run the heart, lungs, and nervous system, which can lead to cardiac arrest, seizures, brain injury, spinal cord damage, and amnesia […], it can bore holes in your retina and cause cataracts, a clouding of the lenses.”

In short, don’t get hit by lightning or it will ruin your day. It not only ruined their day, it killed two men working on our center in Papua New Guinea in 1958. The men were digging a ditch and were suddenly struck by lightning. We administered first aid and cardio pulmonary resuscitation, but could not revive them. I still recall the smell of their burned flesh.

On a brighter note, imagine now the quickness and brightness of the Lord’s return, which is compared to lightning or “In the twinkling of an eye,” as one version puts it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the twinkling, blink or wink of the eye (as other versions translate the phrase), it will be a split second and surprise us.

It pays then to “be ready,” to be alert and recognize that God is not going to send out a news flash about his return. There will be signs—perhaps there already are—but most people will not pay attention to them. Listen to this advice and warning:

“The day of the Lord is surely coming, as unexpectedly as a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the heavenly bodies will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be burned up. And so since everything around us is going to melt away, what holy, godly lives we should be living! You should look forward to that day and hurry it along—the day when God will set the heavens on fire, and the heavenly bodies will melt and disappear in flames. But we are looking forward to God’s promise of new heavens and a new earth afterwards, where there will be only goodness.”  2 Peter 3:10-13.

The next time you see flashes of lightning and hear peals of thunder, pause for a moment and think of the Lord’s return. We need the reminder.

Karl and Joice Franklin
Waiting for the flash of light