What I’m Praying for During This Hurricane

What I’m Praying for During This Hurricane

Image courtesy of Mike Trenchard, Earth Sciences & Image Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I’m grateful for the many friends, including even the most casual acquaintances, who have offered their social media prayers and encouragement as Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida, my home state.  Because the anticipation of this storm hitting has now spanned a week, I’ve had time to think about where this experience fits into my own discipleship and  ministry.   Many of you have told me that you are praying for us.  Thank you.  I’m praying too.  Below is a brief accounting of how I’m praying.

I can’t with clear conscience pray that the storm track goes somewhere else, except maybe out into the Gulf.  As I’ve driven around in my preparations for this storm it’s  clear that working people, those with limited incomes, are the most exposed.  Their frame homes, with makeshift window protection  (which is visible on about 25% of the houses I surveyed yesterday) doesn’t look like it would stand up to a 100 mile an hour wind.  So, to pray for the storm to go here or there in order to miss my house is to ask God to double my privilege as a middle class person with storm shutters and a place to retreat even safer than my home.  I would be disappointed with God if God answered that kind of prayer for escape and in so doing ignored someone else’s desperate cry for help.

That said, I also know this.  God is not always impressed with good theology or good logic.  Jesus clearly teaches that the outcry of a desperate always reaches and moves God.  Many people insist that they have been saved by crying out to God when no other path is available.  So the cry for help, “save me, Lord!” is always available and works.

I can’t pray with indignation that a storm, such Irma, is even happening in the first place.  It’s a naïve prayer that screams, “Why do you send such disasters, Lord?”   In truth, it isn’t the storm alone that creates catastrophe.  The deadliness of this storm, if it is deadly, will be so because of human activity.    For example, it seems that every year brings a new global heat record.  Much of this is due to human activity.   The oceans’ unnatural warmth in turn energizes hurricanes.  People have had a hand in the warming of the earth.   The way that buildings are constructed and cities designed has a great bearing over whether this present storm will be a catastrophe or just a storm.  There is a broad sense that the fury and intensity of Irma is somewhat self-inflicted.  The “why me?” prayer carries just a faint sense of moral denial.  So, I can’t plead innocence with the question, “Why do these things happen?”

Here’s another angle that is a bit complex.  Is a devastating storm like this the cleansing judgment of God?Here’s my answer: Absolutely!

This said, we need to be very attentive to a fully biblical view of God’s judgment and the way it intertwines with God’s redemption.  First of all, we tend to hold a naïve and unbiblical view of the judgment of God, which opens the door for charlatans and politicized religious leaders to connect the dots and supply reasons for horrible events.  Some televangelist or high profile mega-church pastor might suggest: “God is angry with advancing rights for LGBT persons, God is angry with liberals.  God is angry with intellectual elites.  God is angry because of America’s alleged moral decline, etc.’

All of these suggestions are manifestly illogical.   What about disasters elsewhere in the world?  Are the fires in the Western states or similar weather catastrophes around the world also the result of God’s judgment?  Why Caribbean Islands and Florida in the path of destruction and not Montana or Cleveland?    To line up causation between some arbitrary sin and some disaster confuses the naïve, energizes political opportunists, and invites deserved scorn of non-believers.

Here’s how I’m seeing Irma as the judgment of God.  How about a view of God’s judgment that conflates his anger with his love?  I realize that this is a complex subject and that the Bible offers multiple views of God’s judgment.  The view that I’m expanding upon here is that of the Old Testament prophets.  The prophets saw God’s judgment as his love in agony, which reluctantly allowed his hell-bent people to have their way in living as they pleased.  I remember the touching scene in Daniel Defoe’s, Robinson Crusoe, when the young protagonist’s father agreed through tears to let his son become an adventurer on the high seas. The adventure brings years of suffering.   To transfer this idea to the subject of God’s judgment, we can say  that God permits, with much emotion, people to mess up the world and injure one another.  Our destructiveness angers God.  And God weeps because of its consequences.  This is what is meant by judgment.

Here’s how this principle works in this hurricane situation.  We know that God despises poverty and inequality.  We know that God has placed humanity in guardianship over the good creation.  We know that it is the mission of disciples of Christ and children of Abraham to be a blessing to the families of the Earth.  We know that the worship of false gods, be they be individualism, neo-liberalism, consumerism and the like, are in utter defiance of the God of the Bible.

To the degree that we have all persisted in these attitudes and values, we have intensified Irma and the destruction that will follow.   One remembers the appalling injustice depicted in James Cameron’s film Titanic.  As the ocean liner sinks, the steerage passengers–the poor on board–are locked in the lower decks without access to lifeboats.  The audience feels the wanton injustice of this situation with its ghastly and tragic end.  God feels and grieves in similar fashion.  This combination of emotions equates to the judgment of God.

Now this gets much better.  Because I also believe in the Providence of God.  By that I mean that everything that happens—even and especially those terrible happenings, carry tremendous power to fulfill God’s ultimate purpose.  Somehow this hurricane will serve the cause of bringing me and the entire world and all her peoples into that vision of goodness, truth, and beauty envisioned most vividly in the Book of Revelation, but lace throughout the Scriptures.  When and how this happens, I have no idea.  But this I know.  The goodness that is baked into the structure of Creation is similar to a goodness that is structured into the course of events.

There’s more.  People, even and especially individuals and faithful communities, have a powerful role in bringing to reality this great end.  I believe that that is one of the great lessons of biblical faith.  God trusts much of his work into the hands of individuals—Moses, Abraham, David, Paul, and preeminently, Jesus himself.  When I’m at my most faithful and insightful, I realize that God entrusts great responsibility even to me.

U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Leandra D. Hernandez)

In the present situation, scientists, police, firefighters, generous people and people who are seriously dedicated to listening to and following Jesus Christ will have out-sized influence in keeping people alive, getting them to safety, lifting spirits, and rebuilding.

So here’s my prayer:

Lord,  in this and every situation, keep me focused on and confident in your goodness and guidance of all events.  Let me be attentive to where your Spirit and where Jesus—who commands even wind and waves–is busy in the chaos establishing your new order.  Let me—with energy, intelligence, imagination and love–help out there.

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2 Replies to “What I’m Praying for During This Hurricane”

  1. Beautiful prayer and so appropriate Doug! We face these events frequently now in life and sometimes there are terrible trials and results that come from such happening, When the tornado siren goes off , when the earth shakes, when terrorism threatens, when the volcano blows and when the hurricane strikes- the most rugged among us and even the one who feels the weakest or least worthy before God, always turns to him in prayer. What we need more than anything else during these times more than anything else is comfort through and with the lord.

    I find it often best to pray for his guidance as an event comes on, for him to walk with me through the challenge, and to let him know that I appreciate the fact his presence by my side as it gives me great comfort and strength. The 23 Psalm always reminds us of how we can “weather the storm”. Those great words remind us always-“Even though I walk through I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me and your rod and your staff comfort me.”

  2. I really like this. A few questions come to mind. Can God be both benevolent, and also indiscriminately wrathful? Is there any cogent resolution to the theodicy dilemma that accounts for the trajectory of history, including the Holocaust, mass animal suffering, natural disasters, etc.? We can choose, in faith, to believe in divine providence, and to believe that a grand meta narrative is unfolding in ways that are yet unknown to us. Yet, there are things that remain unknown and perhaps ultimately mysterious under this logical framework. The dinosaurs, who presumably never knew God, also suffered the wrath of great storms, and ultimately extinction, presumably through no choosing and action of their own. Like all of us, I would like to believe in a benevolent, omnipresent, all powerful God, but I’m not certain that the trajectory of history supports this more ordered, purposeful view of the great unfolding.
    In our attempts to render such disasters and pain as a part of God’s great plan, to what extent do we diminish our cries of truth to the powers that marginalize and exploit the least of these? If we say that the storms are part of the great unfolding, and that God is working in ways that are both grand and also mysterious, can we hold on to this great truth without diminishing the radicality of our claims for earthly justice? Can we embrace our faith with sobriety, without it becoming an opiate that numbs us to the plight of the disenfranchised? It is important that we use the claims of our great faith to embolden and impassion our quest for love, justice and mercy, to be the helpers, as you speak of here, rather than those who sit on our hands with our Bibles in our laps.

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