You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

Barney Zwartz reflects on how inaccuracies in weather predictions can teach us an important lesson about faith.

This is really a column about absence of faith.

The objects of my unbelief make no claim to infallibility. But, like the Pope, they feel their authority should suffice. I refer to the seers and prophets who rejoice in the name of meteorologists and foretell our future in the clouds.

I love rain, and day after day I peruse the weather in The Age and on the Bureau of Meteorology website, hoping for good news. And often I get it: ”High (80 per cent) chance of showers,” they loftily proclaim. But, lo and behold, so it comes not to pass. Nothing. No rain at all, time after time.

Obviously 80 per cent chance of rain is not 100 per cent chance of rain, but it would be reasonable to expect such a forecast to be right four days out of five rather than none or one.

I don’t know how the shamans are reading the entrails or cutting the cards or throwing the dice, but it’s not working. And if that is not their scientific method, perhaps it ought to be – it could scarcely be less accurate.

And yet these high priests of weather have the population hoodwinked. Journalists and radio hosts hang on their every word, and people plan their lives around the forecasters’ prognostications.

”Fine and 27 degrees with a light northerly,” he or she intones, and families plan a picnic or a trip to the beach, only to find it overcast and freezing. (But probably not raining.)

The only time, it seems, they predict rain correctly is for the great public ceremonies, when people dress in their finest only to find themselves soddenly searching for an ark (exhibit A: this year’s Melbourne Cup).

Another example of the meteorologists’ perfidy is the much-anticipated cool change, scheduled to arrive between 4 and 6pm, they say. And so it does – four days later. But the forecasters smile serenely because they know – if they but hold their nerve and wait – it must come true eventually.

And yet the simple faith of much of the population is serenely untouched by the gulf between forecast and fact.

Faith is a fine, even an essential, quality for a human, but it is not an unconditional good.

And this brings me to a tremendously important fact about faith.

Faith is a fine, even an essential, quality for a human, but it is not an unconditional good. The object of the faith determines this.

I have learnt the same lesson as King David, the author of Psalm 146, who wrote: ”Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save … Blessed are those whose hope is in the Lord their God.”

Barney Zwartz is a senior fellow with the Centre for Public Christianity.

This article first appeared in The Age.