What We Know About Lightning

What We Know About Lightning

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” Ps. 139:14

A recent episode of the Radiolab podcast attempted to answer random questions submitted by listeners over the past year. One was from a listener seeking to understand a strange, X-Files-like experience. He had witnessed the spontaneous formation of a glowing, pulsating, electric orb. The orb floated in front of his face for a second and then disappeared.

Radiolab turned to the University of Florida Professor, Martin Uman for an answer. A Distinguished Professor of Computer and Electrical Engineering, Uman was quick to identify the listener’s experience as a phenomenon called, ball lightning. Not only had Uman received a grant to study ball lightning. He also wrote a book about it. He was an expert in the field.

While incidents of ball lightning are not uncommon, no one has a clue how it happens. Dr. Uman, the distinguished professor who had written a book on the subject, had no answer. Matter of fact, in his book there are fifty different theories. None of which can be proven because you cannot recreate it in a lab. So ball lightening remains a randomly observed mystery.

Not only do we not understand ball lighting, Martin Uman continued, but we also don’t know how regular lightning is produced. Based on the measurements scientist can observe in clouds, lightning should not be able to happen. And yet, it does.

Uman then went on to say how the world was full of things we don’t understand. Actually, almost nothing in the world is understood. Radiolab turned to an expert for answers and ended up discovering how little the experts know.

It’s not that the experts are deficient in any way. Like Dr. Uman, they are some of the brightest minds in the universe. It’s just that the world is overflowing with mystery. Mysteries too great for our brains to comprehend. It was refreshing to hear a scientist tell the truth. Life is not a series of provable facts, but a reality beyond full human understanding.

In Psalm 139, the word interpreted as “wonderfully” comes from the Hebrew root word pala’. It means to be different, striking, remarkable and outside the power of human understanding. Psalm 139 and the Radiolab show made me think, do we need to understand something for it to be known? Why can’t we be happy just knowing something is true?

The creative goodness of God is not limited to an ancient writer of a psalm. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made. It would be true, even if our lives were recreated in a lab to be tested and verified. This I know, even if I don’t understand it.

Click to read: Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18

Reflection Questions:

  • What is something you know but don’t understand?
  • Why do you know it?
  • How does not understanding the world make you feel?
  • How often do you feel fearfully and wonderfully made?


Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

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