I’m going to shift gears for a while with my blogging.
Instead of trying to come up with my definitive response to various cultural happenings, I’m going to ask more questions.
Or, I’ll questions that other people are asking me.
And I may venture an answer to the question. Or I may not.
Like this one, which someone asked me the other day–someone who had Hurricane Irma in mind:
“Is it legitimate to pray for God to spare people from disaster, or does it only make sense to pray for comfort and strength during and after disaster?“
Now that’s a good question.
I’ll venture a response to this one–however tentative and humbly.
I’ll be honest. I rarely pray for God to change history. I don’t pray for miracles, if by miracles you mean something like divine interventions or interruptions in the natural order to disrupt the normal course of events.
I used to, but I hardly ever do anymore.
I don’t pray that God would cure someone of terminal cancer. I don’t pray that God would mercifully take away someone’s dementia. And I don’t pray that God would push Hurricane Irma in another direction–that it would turn sharply east instead of on its current course–or that God would make it magically disappear.
Maybe God is simply awaiting our earnest prayers, very able to puff the Hurricane off its current course (or squelch it to nothing). But if God could and would simply do all sorts of life-saving miracles if enough of us would just muster the energy, will, or faith to get on our knees and ask hard enough–well, that’s not a God I can either love, worship, or believe in.
So I don’t pray for God to do something miraculous with weather patterns, or mutating cells, or plaques in the brain that cause dementia.
I don’t pray to God for those things because, to me, to do so suggests that God is at least something like a cosmic manipulator–withholding good things in the treasure chest until we get up the courage, stamina, or energy to go ask for them. This would be a God who allows great damage to happen to others because I (and we) didn’t pray hard enough, with enough faith, or with the right words.
Granted, if I was trapped in south Florida right now, I’d be on my knees mustering petitions to God. Urgency–and wind and water–might change my theology.
So, it is different a matter, perhaps, to ask God to save an individual person from natural disaster–rather than to ask God to alter the entire weather pattern.
But even focusing the issue to the individual (or specific group) also raises the age-old theological problem of “selective miracles.” Why would God heal Harry but not Sally? Why would God spare Antigua but not Barbuda? Theologians who believe in some form of interactive divine providence puzzle about that one.
In any case, I’d answer the question by saying that (for me) it makes the most sense theologically to pray for comfort and strength during and after disaster. To pray for peace and courage–to pray for wisdom in moving forward.
My approach might be a version of that well-known statement of C.S. Lewis: prayer is meant to change us (inwardly), not to change God (or the course of history as God determines it).
I think prayer is really mainly for redirecting our hearts, shaping our desires to conform to the love of Christ. I don’t think it will do very much good for us to pray for God to change the path of the hurricane.
I do think we should all start taking climate change very seriously. In other words, let’s pray, yes. But let’s focus our prayers to inspire us and lead us to wise and courageous action, as the waters warm and rise and as the storms grow fiercer.
But enough about me. What do you think?