Hur­ri­canes and prayer

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Peter Espeut Peter Espeut is a so­ci­ol­o­gist and Ro­man Catholic dea­con. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

THE CHANGES in di­rec­tion of pow­er­ful Hur­ri­cane Matthew have led to the ex­pected claims by the usual sus­pects. The fun­da­men­tal­ist prayer war­riors are claim­ing vic­tory for their awe­some God who could part the Red Sea and calm the storm, and who, in this case – be­cause of their prayer – has caused the hur­ri­cane to move away from God’s coun­try and to­wards voodoo-rid­den Haiti and com­mu­nist Cuba. God is a just God, they will claim.

But why, the sec­u­lar­ists ar­gue, was God so vi­cious and ma­li­cious to have sent Matthew head­ing our way in the first place? Did the Ja­maican prayer war­riors ‘change the mind of God’? Was it the prayer war­riors in the Yu­catan that caused Matthew to stop and turn north away from them and to­wards us? Is the un­chang­ing God so fickle?

If their sup­pli­ca­tion is so pow­er­ful, the sec­u­lar­ists will ar­gue, why can’t the prayer war­riors bar­rage heaven and deal with cor­rupt politi­cians, the gar­risons with their gun­men and ex­tor­tion­ists, and the Mon­tego Bay lotto scam­mers? And couldn’t their prayer have worked long dis­tance to in­flu­ence the Supreme Courts of the USA and Belize? The sec­u­lar­ists then pour scorn on all re­li­gion as self-serv­ing and hyp­o­crit­i­cal and an emo­tional crutch for frag­ile egos.

BABY WITH THE BATH WATER

Now, hold on! Not all Chris­tians are fun­da­men­tal­ists. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water!

When the fol­low­ers of Je­sus asked him to teach them to pray, he gave them a tem­plate, but many peo­ple have re­worked it to suit them­selves. In­stead of ‘Thy will be done’, they want ‘My will be done’. What they re­ally want to do is con­trol God, so that he does things their way.

Surely, God’s plan is bet­ter than mine, and so what I re­ally want is for His will to be done, not mine, no mat­ter how tough the road is. In the Gar­den of Geth­se­mane, Je­sus, the God­Man, sweated blood be­cause of what was to come. For hours, He strug­gled with His Fa­ther: “Fa­ther, if it is Your will, let this cup pass from Me.” But in the end, He had to pray, “Not My will, but Thine be done,” and on to the cross He went.

The best ap­proach to prayer, then, is to seek God’s will (dis­cern­ment) and then to pray for that to be done.

We are also called to take up our cross and fol­low Him, and maybe for some, a hur­ri­cane is part of their cross. But the so­called ‘pros­per­ity gospel’ wants Chris­tian­ity with­out the cross. That very com­fort­able bas­tardi­s­a­tion of the gospel is wor­thy of much crit­i­cism, for it is lead­ing many away from the truth. It clearly has not oc­curred to many Chris­tians that God’s plan for our lives might in­clude suf­fer­ing.

FRIV­O­LOUS PRAY­ERS

And so they fever­ishly pray for the hur­ri­cane to turn away from them so they won’t suf­fer, even if that means it will hit some­one else who will suf­fer. It is self-cen­tred self­ish­ness! So much for ‘Do unto oth­ers ... . ”

And then there are the friv­o­lous pray­ers for the West Indies or Ja­maica to win their matches or for ‘my party’ to win the elec­tion, as if the other side does not also pray to the same God for the same thing. We should pray to al­ways do our best, and to be free of un­to­ward in­ci­dents, not for the at­tain­ment of self­ish goals.

I think the source of the prob­lem lies in a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the early Old Tes­ta­ment, which con­tained the ethic that the good will pros­per in this life, while the wicked will be sim­i­larly pun­ished down here. But per­sonal ob­ser­va­tion re­veals the ex­act op­po­site: Many good peo­ple suf­fer, while many wicked peo­ple pros­per. The turn­ing point was the Book of Job, where the is­sue was treated ful­somely. The re­ward or pun­ish­ment is not in this life, but the next. The later Old Tes­ta­ment and all of the New Tes­ta­ment re­flect this more de­vel­oped the­o­log­i­cal po­si­tion re­vealed in scrip­ture.

We are en­cour­aged ‘to ask’, and ‘to seek’, and ‘to knock’, but our prayer will be an­swered only if we ‘ask for things in ac­cor­dance with His will’ (I John 5:4). When the Holy Spirit prays to God for us (Ro­mans 8:27), he does so ac­cord­ing to the “mind of God”. The closer we get to God, the closer our lives and our needs are aligned with His ways, the more we know what to pray for.

Those who study the­ol­ogy know how com­plex an is­sue is this mat­ter of prayer to an un­chang­ing God. Not all de­nom­i­na­tions be­lieve in the­ol­ogy (faith seek­ing un­der­stand­ing; fun­da­men­tal­ists) are sat­is­fied to quote (often ig­no­rant of the con­text) a string of Bible pas­sages. They are more com­fort­able with a God who is a big ‘boops’ in the sky rather than one who makes dif­fi­cult de­mands on them.

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