An old schoolmate posted on her Facebook account that she is praying for Hurricane Irene to go back out to sea and not hit the US, where it will likely do enormous damage. But there is no doubt that in every single hurricane that has ever threatened anywhere, huge numbers of people in every location where it might hit have prayed that it not hit them and not cause damage. And yet hurricanes hit land and do enormous damage all the time.
Pat Robertson claimed long ago that he had successfully prayed a hurricane away from Virginia, but it continued up the east coast and did enormous damage in states north of there. And yet there were undoubtedly lots and lots of good Christian folks in New Jersey and on Long Island praying the same thing Robertson had prayed. Does this mean God likes Virginia better than New Jersey? That he pays special attention to Robertson’s prayers? That there were more people praying in Virginia than on Long Island?
Those are all possible answers. The most obvious answer, even from a Christian perspective, is that God will follow his own will regardless of what we do. But then why bother to pray at all, if it has no effect at all on what will happen? And what about John 14, where Jesus clearly promises that anything that you ask in his name will be done? That clearly isn’t true. If it was true, every prayer would be answered — and since people often pray for contradictory things, that simply can’t be true.
When it comes to a situation like a hurricane, praying that it doesn’t hit you is tantamount to praying that it hits someone else. Or that it dissipates and hits no one, but since nearly everyone prays for such an outcome every time a hurricane occurs, those prayers obviously don’t do much good. The whole exercise strikes me as quite silly and irrational.