To See The Thunder


There is a scripture in the Bible. As far as I know, it is not in all translations of the Bible. But this I know for certain: It is in the King James Version.

When I was 10, perhaps 11, Daddy preached the scripture from the rough-hewn pine pulpit in the tiny one-room mountain church we attended. For all these years, it has clung to me like a small clump of red mud will cling to a pair of work boots.

It is a story from the 40-year-journey of Moses and the children of Israel. They were a troublesome bunch and Moses definitely had his hands full as they complained of food and conditions. They pushed the Lord’s patience. This is known for certain because the journey to the Promised Land should have taken only 11 days. Yet, it took 40 years and wore out many shoes while a generation of people died away and never saw the Land of Milk and Honey.

The children of Israel, again being powerfully hungry for attention, wanted to hear from God directly. They were tired of hearing only through Moses. When God revealed Himself, it says in the 20th chapter of Exodus, “they saw the thunderings” and “they trembled with fear.”

It was such an upsetting experience that the wayward pilgrims then said to Moses, “Let Him not speak to us lest we die.”

It is the one and only time that I have ever heard that scripture preached or even mentioned in a sermon. I’ve carried it with me all these years and remember Daddy saying, “they SAW the thunder.”

There are versions of the Bible that change the verb from “saw” to “heard.” It is a significant difference.

One day, Tink was on a zoom call with several people while a heavy rainstorm fell. I was at the barn and was amazed at the booming clatter of the raindrops on the tin roof. Now, anyone who has ever been privileged to go to sleep to the sound of rain falling on a tin roof, talks about it with tremendous affection. The falling rain that day, however, sounded like the starting field of the Daytona 500.

Our dog, Biscuit, sat in the corner of the barn, her big brown eyes wide, edging toward fear. “It’s okay, baby girl,” I said, bending down on my knees to comfort her. “God is watering the trees for us.”

A bit later, back at the house, I wandered through the kitchen where Tink was having a serious business call. Suddenly, the loudest clap of thunder that I may have ever heard, shook the house. It felt like being slapped across the face.

Someone on the other end of the Zoom said, “Wh—??” And, that was it. The call was gone. The Wifi had died.

It is said that there is never lightning without thunder though sometimes the thunder can be so far away from the lightning, that you won’t hear it. But if you hear thunder, you will see lightning. No question.

As far as we could tell, there was no lighting to be seen that day. Just one horrendous, stomping, clap of thunder.

It brought back to mind, that sermon from my childhood years. Something that I knew, even then, was that I did not ever want to see: thunder.

Every day this world grows a little more foreign. Strange things happen so often that either Tink or I will say, “I ain’t for believin’ that,” quoting our dearly departed Ed Parks.

There are things that I wish I could unsay, unknow, unfeel or unhear because they bring an unsettling to my spirit.

On that recent day, I saw what a powerful clap of thunder can do. It’s frightening. I hope I never actually see the thunder.

But I think, one day if I live long enough, I might. Just like the children of Israel.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Visit to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]