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Clouds as a Sign

February 13, 2024

Late last summer, I was in Cape Coral, Florida for the fall convocation of Founders Ministries’ Institute of Public Theology at Grace Baptist Church, where I teach a course on logic and rhetoric this spring, and I decided to piggyback some baseball tourism on the visit. Through the years, I’ve enjoyed going to MLB games in parks around the country. I believe this began when, in the 1950s, I saw the Detroit Tigers play the New York Yankees in Detroit’s Tiger Stadium. (My mom was a Michigander, and we’d visit our maternal grandparents yearly.) That’s when I saw Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra play, the latter in right field that day instead of catching.


On a 2000s mission trip for SBTS, we went to a Tigers game in their newer park, Comerica. It hit me that I’ve done two parks in other cities as well—Los Angeles (the Coliseum and Chavez Ravine), the D/FW Metroplex (the old and the new in Arlington), Chicago (the Sox in Comiskey and U.S. Cellular/Guaranteed Rate, plus, of course, the Cubs in Wrigley), and Atlanta (Turner and SunTrust/Truist). I’d visited 28 in all, with none in Florida. So, I decided to supplement my Cape Coral visit with a run down to Miami to see the Marlins (who broke the heart of my Cubs in the Bartman-incident NL playoff in 2003) and then back up to Tampa/St. Pete to see the Rays.


As I drove east of Naples on I-75 (“Alligator Alley”), I was gobsmacked (thank you Brits for this expression) by the magnificent clouds that filled the sky, and I started taking shots as far as my little phone camera and driving-safety concerns would allow. (Here, you see one taken from a rest stop parking lot.) Not long into this enterprise, a Bible passage came to mind, the one about Jesus’s returning in the clouds, and I was intrigued and stirred by the notion of so grand an entrance. And I was reminded of how the beauty and sublimity of things we see in the sky have captured the imagination of artists and aestheticians over the centuries, and my mind started running to famous cloudscapes by Van Gogh, Constable, Bierstadt, Turner, Homer, etc. And, of course, there are remarkable sky paintings (and photographs) that capture the wonder of day’s end (Monet’s Sunset in Venice), night’s beginning (Adams’s Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico), and nocturnal heavenlies (Van Gogh’s Starry Night)


Back in Nashville, I pulled down a concordance and did a tour of cloud references. In I Kings 18, we read of Elijah’s duel with the prophets of Baal, where a tiny cloud spotted out at sea turned into a mighty storm cloud as it moved inland; Psalm 104:3 speaks of the greatness of God by saying that he “makes the clouds His chariot”; and Daniel 7:13 gives us a taste New Testament teaching on the end times. In Acts 1:9, we read that, at Jesus’ Ascension, “a cloud took Him out of their sight,” and, in verse 9, that he “will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven”; in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, we’re told that, at Jesus’ return, the dead in Christ and those still living will “be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air”; Matthew 26:64 and Mark 14:62 show him telling the Sanhedrin he’ll be “seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven”; this follows what he told his disciples in Matthew 24:30 concerning his return—“ . . . and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”


In Genesis 9, God said that he’d set a sign in the clouds—a rainbow with the promise that he wouldn’t send another universal flood—and, sure enough, we Christians recount that from time to time as we see these beautiful phenomena. But we’d do well to mention Christ’s return as we take in the display of clouds above us. In school, we learn the rudiments of cloud science (“cirrus,” “cumulus,” “stratus”), and, following Peanuts characters, we associate shapes. (Remember the cartoon that had Lucy seeing cotton balls; Linus’s seeing the shape of British Honduras, the profile of artist Thomas Eakins, and the stoning of Stephen; Charlie seeing a ducky and a horsie?) But clouds can also prompt us to rejoice in Christ’s forthcoming return. I certainly picked up on that cue down in Florida.


Each year, Oscars and Tonys are given, respectively, for “best production design” and “best scenic design,” but neither can hold a candle to God’s celestial stagecraft for great dramas in human history.