The people who wrote the Bible were no different - thunder and lightning are spoken of as tokens of God's wrath (2 Samuel 22:15; Job 28:26; 37:4; Psalm 135:7; 144:6; Zechariah 9:14). They represent God's glorious and awful majesty (Revelation 4:5), or some judgment of God on the world (20:9).
The clear understanding was that lightning was God's punishment for sinners. This caused a bit of a problem for believers, since by far and away the most common target was church steeples. So they decided that it must be because God didn't realize that it was a church he was smiting. Quite how that fitted with the dogma of an all-knowing all-seeing all-wise God was ignored.
But the obvious remedy was Ring The Bells to tell God it was a church.
This was a GREAT idea.
Thunderstorms + wet bell ropes + bellringers attached to the ropes = incinerated bellringers.
1752 Ben Franklin and Scientific Evidence
While others had previously noted the similarity between laboratory sparks and lightning, Franklin was the first to design an experiment which conclusively proved the electrical nature of lightning. In his experiment, he theorized that clouds are electrically charged, from which it follows that lightning must also be electrical. The experiment involved Franklin standing on an electrical stand, holding an iron rod with one hand to obtain an electrical discharge between the other hand and the ground. If the clouds were electrically charged then sparks would jump between the iron rod and a grounded wire, in this case, held by an insulating wax candle.
This experiment was successfully performed by Thomas Francois D'Alibard of France in May 1752 when sparks were observed to jump from the iron rod during a thunderstorm. G. W. Richmann, a Swedish physicist working in Russia during July 1753, proved that thunderclouds contain electrical charge, and was killed when lightning struck him.
Before Franklin accomplished his original experiment, he thought of a better way to prove his hypothesis through the use of a kite. The kite took the place of the iron rod, since it could reach a greater elevation and could be flown anywhere. During a Pennsylvania thunderstorm in 1752 the most famous kite in history flew with sparks jumping from a key tied to the bottom of damp kite string to an insulating silk ribbon tied to the knuckles of Franklin's hand. Franklin's grounded body provided a conducting path for the electrical currents responding to the strong electric field buildup in the storm clouds.
As late as 1770 many religious Americans still felt that, since thunder and lightning were tokens of the divine displeasure, it was impiety to prevent their doing their full work. It took a few decades for the devout to abandon their religious prejudices regarding the use of the lightning rod, but eventually it was demonstrated to all but the most dense that both the "vengeance of God" and the "Prince of the Power of the Air" were forced to retreat before the lightning-rod of a heretic.
Churches in Germany shunned Franklin's new invention for three decades, during which time some 400 church towers were damaged by lightning and 120 bell ringers killed. In one church a bolt of lightning struck the tower and melted the bell, electrocuted the priest, deprived a parishioner of her sensibilities and destroyed a painting of the Savior. Church towers, being the highest structures in a village, are commonly struck by lightning, while brothels and saloons next door escape untouched.
It was long before the churches consented to be protected by the heretical tool. The tower of St. Mark's in Venice had at the time of Franklin's invention been struck again and again by lightning, sometimes with such disastrous effects that it had been almost destroyed. The Almighty, or alternatively the Powers of Darkness, seemed to have singled it out for special punishment, in spite of the angel that adorned its summit, the consecrated bells which were repeatedly rung to drive away the thunder, the holy relics in the cathedral nearby and the processions of the Virgin and the patron saint. The tower was struck again in two successive summers, whereupon the authorities succumbed and a lightning rod was erected. The edifice has never been damaged by lightning since, but God alone has received the thanks of a grateful people. In Austria the church of Rosenberg was struck so frequently and with such loss of life that the peasants feared to attend services. Three times the spire had to be rebuilt, until the devil was exorcised by an iron rod.
The case which did the most to convert the Italian theologians to the scientific view of lightning and the use of the lightning rod was that of the church of San Nazaro, at Brescia. The Republic of Venice had stored in the vaults of this church over two hundred thousand pounds of gunpowder. In 1767, seventeen years after Franklin's discovery, no rod having been placed upon it, it was struck by lightning, the powder in the vaults exploded, one sixth of the entire city destroyed, and over three thousand lives were lost.
The Amish and Lightning Conductors
The Amish refuse to use lightning rods (or smoke detectors) because that violates God's will.
As a result they lose a lot of barns, and get a lot of practice erecting new ones.
Lightning and Superstition - the Bible Today
Despite the science there are still Christians who see lightning as sign of God's anger.
This dogma is based on what the Bible says - both Old and New Testaments. As with most dogmatic statements, there are problems reconciling the dogma with the real world.
For example - how do you reconcile the idea of a kind and merciful God with one who zaps a woman standing on a mountain peak? Why did God immolate Touchdown Jesus but leave untouched a neighboring cell phone tower and a billboard advertising a porn website?