I was awakened this morning by the wind. It was rushing through the hills buffeting everything in its path. When I got up, I went to the window to see for myself: The trees were shaking and swaying. Many leaves were scattered about while their more-stalwart brethren clung to the writhing branches for dear life. In the distance you could hear our wind chimes going nuts, as if there was some kid in the bell tower signaling to the townspeople that the war had ended.
Because we live in Southern California, I immediately thought: Santa Anas—the dry winds that blow down from the Great Basin and Upper Mojave and take every ounce of humidity with them. I’m not smart enough to really understand the phenomenon—if Wikipedia has it right it has something to do with adiabatic heating and orographic lift and whatnot. All I know is that when these winds blow, usually the temperature rises and we start to worry about wildfires. I have witnessed that cause-and-effect enough to know about the correlation even if I don’t know the first thing about meteorology.
In such circumstances you can see why the wind has always been the go-to metaphor for God: You may not be able to see it, exactly, but you can see its power and impact on everything around it. For a believer like me, it’s an analogy that is easy to understand. I suppose you could lump me in with Alma, who famously said: “[All] things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44).
Apparently Alma and I are not alone—at least in a general sense. A 2012 study published by the University of Chicago reported that even in our increasingly secular society, over two-thirds of people in the United States still believe in a personal God. Nevertheless, if you look across the world (in Europe, in particular) you find that percentage drops rather sharply. More troubling, in most countries only a minority of people are prepared to say that they know God exists and they have no doubts about it.
Those numbers are not altogether surprising, but I wonder how people can see the same things I see and come to the opposite conclusion. It’s as if they were saying, The wind is not blowing. No doubt they make well-reasoned arguments, perhaps with charts and graphs and a fair amount of science—what has sometimes been referred to as “the philosophies of men.” Even so, I can’t help but think of a favorite story from the New Testament:
A forty-something man, crippled since birth, was carried each day to the gates of the temple where he asked alms. One day Peter and James came to the temple. “Silver and gold have I none,” said Peter, “but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6). We’re told the man leapt to his feet and walked, to the astonishment of people throughout Jerusalem.
The miracle filled the local authorities with consternation, for they couldn’t deny what had been done in the name of Jesus, whom they had crucified. So they called Peter and John to them, threatened them and ordered them “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). To which Peter gave this classic response: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
I guess I sort of feel the same way. I do not pretend to understand the philosophies of men which enable others to talk themselves out of the existence of God. I can only speak to what I see and hear. And if you ask me, the wind is definitely blowing.