In 1915 a onetime sewing machine salesman named Charles Hatfield persuaded the city council of drought-stricken San Diego, California to pay him $10,000 to make it rain. Hatfield never collected a penny, even though he appeared to have ended the drought; if anything, he succeeded only too well. Town officials actually agreed to settle with him at one point, but only if he assumed liability for $3.5 million in flood claims against the city arising from his efforts.
The self-proclaimed rainmaker had built towers near the city reservoir with evaporation tanks on top designed to release secret chemicals into the atmosphere. Within days, it began to rain, then it began to pour. The ensuing deluge washed away dams, bridges, railroad tracks, farms and houses, leaving many people homeless and killing at least 20. Whether or not you believed Hatfield had anything to do with this cataclysm, he obviously didn’t know how to turn it off. But then, that wasn’t in his contract. And unfortunately for him, he neglected to sign the document before be began work, so the city council refused to pay. Hatfield spent the next 22 years trying to recover his fee in court before a ruling came down attributing the cloudburst to an act of God.
Alone among creatures who are mostly at the mercy of the elements, humans have taken it upon themselves to gain the upper hand through science, engineering or flimflammery, whatever seems most expedient. Some have even resorted to more direct measures. According to Old Testament accounts, Elijah called on God to bring down fire from heaven and then made it rain. Jesus astonished his disciples by calming a storm while they were crossing a lake by boat. Even more astonishing, he promised them if they had faith as large as a mustard seed, they themselves could move mountains.
It’s easy to dismiss Charles Hatfield’s labors in San Diego as some sort of fluke, except that he duplicated them in over 500 parched communities throughout the Yukon and western United States. Perhaps he got a jump on scientists who eventually learned to make it rain by seeding clouds with silver iodine crystals. Jesus’ meteorological feats (assuming the gospel stories are true) are easily explained, provided you buy into the notion that he was the Son of God. But what about his assertion that even regular folks can move mountains with a little faith?
Our tendency now is to isolate Jesus from the ordinary rung of humanity; however, a careful reading of Scripture shows that Jesus never claimed an exclusive franchise on mighty works. Indeed, he told his disciples that “he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do.” Yet here we are after two millennia with precious few mighty works of this type to our credit. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know of anyone, faithful or not, who can move mountains, at least not without a lot of heavy earth-moving equipment. I suspect the issue has less to do with belief in God than belief in ourselves. We think the explanation is that Jesus is the Son of God and that we are not. But perhaps Jesus just understood better than we do what it means to be made in God’s image and to be given dominion over his creation.
I Kings 18