Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Garth Minott Con­trib­u­tor Canon Garth Minott is a mem­ber of the Pub­lic The­ol­ogy Fo­rum. Email feedback to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

In this Oc­to­ber 3 photo, Haitian women and chil­dren get ready to sleep on the floor of the Padre Chava mi­grant shel­ter in Ti­juana, Mex­ico. Hun­dreds, per­haps thou­sands, of Haitian men, women and chil­dren reg­u­larly spend the night just out­side the busiest US bor­der cross­ing.

IS A hur­ri­cane an evil thing? This is the ques­tion I have had to ask my­self as we con­tinue to talk about Hur­ri­cane Matthew. On the Thurs­day of the week prior to the pas­sage of the storm, I lis­tened to a ra­dio pro­gramme that fea­tured prayers of in­ter­ces­sion based on the im­pend­ing im­pact of the hur­ri­cane on Ja­maica. The host of the pro­gramme in­vited spe­cial guests, known as in­ter­ces­sors, along with lis­ten­ers to of­fer prayers of in­ter­ces­sions in re­sponse to the threat of the hur­ri­cane.

I was es­pe­cially struck by the prayers that la­belled the hur­ri­cane evil, a demon and a wicked in­stru­ment that must be re­buffed or, rather, re­buked at all cost.

Prayers, punc­tu­ated by ref­er­ences to the need to make prepa­ra­tion for the hur­ri­cane, and the need to take all pre­cau­tions nec­es­sary, were nev­er­the­less fo­cused on the evils of the hur­ri­cane.

Nu­mer­ous ref­er­ences to the wicked ac­tions the hur­ri­cane can po­ten­tially un­leash on the coun­try were an­nounced with much fan­fare. Th­ese ref­er­ences were placed along­side the idea that though wicked peo­ple are in Ja­maica, and de­serve to be pun­ished, nev­er­the­less, the prayers of the righ­teous are suf­fi­cient to make God turn away the evil on­slaught of the hur­ri­cane.


It’s in­ter­est­ing to note that the prayers re­quest­ing the hur­ri­cane be turned away never took the time to recog­nise that the same evil be­ing prayed away from Ja­maica could po­ten­tially im­pact the lives of per­sons from other na­tions. The in­ter­ces­sors were less at­ten­tive to the needs of our sis­ters and broth­ers in other ter­ri­to­ries who were af­fected by the hur­ri­cane. Prayers for them were not forth­com­ing, as they were out­side the frame of ref­er­ence of good or evil.

Barack Obama and the govern­ment of the United States rep­re­sent an ap­proach that gives an­other side to the in­ter­ces­sors’ prayers con­cern­ing the hur­ri­cane as evil. Their ac­tions re­flect the need for ef­fec­tive prepa­ra­tion for a hur­ri­cane, as was ac­knowl­edged by the in­ter­ces­sors. In prepa­ra­tion for the pos­si­ble im­pact of the hur­ri­cane on the south­ern coast of the United States, Pres­i­dent Obama took steps to put all sys­tems on alert to man­age in the af­ter­math of the hur­ri­cane. At the same time, such prepa­ra­tion was tak­ing place, steps were be­ing taken to send re­lief sup­plies into Haiti, par­tic­u­larly in the south­ern sec­tion of the coun­try that was badly af­fected by the storm.

Sim­i­larly, the Ja­maican Govern­ment, though hav­ing to

ad­dress the prob­lems that oc­curred in a num­ber of shel­ters, in­clud­ing the bad be­hav­iour of some of those who oc­cu­pied them, were nev­er­the­less pre­par­ing to send peo­ple and re­sources to Haiti. Th­ese ac­tions by both gov­ern­ments are all hu­man­i­tar­ian.

Theod­icy, or ‘the vin­di­ca­tion of divine prov­i­dence in view of the ex­is­tence of evil’, is the term used by the­olo­gians to de­scribe the ap­proach taken by the in­ter­ces­sors in de­scrib­ing the hur­ri­cane as evil or de­monic. The prob­lem for theod­icy is how to ex­plain bad things hap­pen­ing to peo­ple in the face of a good God in charge of the world. Both the ques­tion and the an­swer are as old as hu­man civil­i­sa­tion.


Yet, a timely ap­proach to both the ques­tion and the an­swer are found in the book of Job. The Book of Job faces squarely the ques­tion of how peo­ple of faith ac­count for the pres­ence of evil while be­liev­ing in a good God. The an­swer given by the writer of the book of Job is sum­marised in the use of the word wis­dom and is found in chap­ter 28:12-28. The point made by the writer is that the an­swer to the prob­lem of evil is not to be sim­ply prayed away but faced squarely as a real­ity of life that must be dealt with as part of life. In other words, we are not called so much to pray away or ex­plain away evil as we are called to believe and trust in God.

In the face of im­pend­ing dis­as­ter, such as is often caused by a hur­ri­cane, the re­sponse of the hu­man be­ing is to trust God and do ev­ery­thing to pro­tect and pre­serve life and prop­erty.

What then should be our ap­proach in the face of any im­pend­ing nat­u­ral dis­as­ter? Two things are pos­si­ble and they are summed up in the great com­mand­ment given by Je­sus: love God and love your neigh­bour as your­self.

It is true that the prob­lem of evil is not solved by our hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponse. But, who says the prob­lem of evil is some­thing to be solved? In any event, it is not for us to la­bel the forces of na­ture, like a hur­ri­cane, as evil. Though the af­ter­math of a hur­ri­cane can re­sult in evil ac­tions and con­se­quences, this does not mean a hur­ri­cane is evil or de­monic in and of it­self.

So, is a hur­ri­cane evil or de­monic? By no means; it is not ap­pro­pri­ate to call a nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non evil or de­monic, rather, hur­ri­canes, earth­quakes, vol­ca­noes, etc, are ways in which na­ture cleanses and re­news it­self. God say that th­ese things were good and we should do like­wise. In the face of th­ese nat­u­ral dis­as­ters we are called to love God and love our neigh­bours as our­selves. We can do so by be­ing pre­pared for nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and be re­spon­sive to the needs of oth­ers in the af­ter­math of any nat­u­ral dis­as­ter.

I end with the fol­low­ing quote from Mar­i­lyn Adam­son: “God has of­fered to an­swer the prayers of his chil­dren (those who have re­ceived him into their lives and seek to fol­low him). He asks us to take any con­cerns to him in prayer and he will act upon it ac­cord­ing to his will. As we deal with dif­fi­cul­ties, we are to cast our cares on him and re­ceive from him a peace that de­fies the cir­cum­stances. The ba­sis for our hope and faith is the char­ac­ter of God him­self. The bet­ter we know him, the more apt we are to trust him.”



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