Friday, September 15, 2017

When God Doesn't Change the Path of the Hurricane

I told myself I wouldn't get sucked into these kinds of conversations on Facebook.  I had been so good at not engaging.  But then I saw this post from a family member (the fact that it's a family member may make this engagement better or worse, I'm not sure):

"So...there was a massive unprecedented hurricane barreling down on Florida. We all saw the radar and space images. The country went into a panic and many began asking for prayer and millions were praying that God would ease the storm. The storm followed the predicted path but did not cause even remotely the amount of damage or loss of life that was expected. Now there's an outcry that either the media was lying or the scientists were wrong. Why is no one considering the possibility that God answered some prayers and intervened, thwarting the devastating effects of the storm?

I let it go at first.  If I responded, would I really change any minds?  But in the end, I wrote this:

"Have you seen reports from Key West? The fact that no one has seen pictures makes me worry that it may be truly awful. And Naples is in bad shape. The problem with this theology: did those people pray less well? Why did God thwart devastating effects for me and not for all the island nations? I feel certain that it's NOT because I pray better or are [sic] more deserving."

The FB poster said this: 

"It wasn't a matter of praying better. If Irma had taken the path they said at a Cat 5 then there would have been massive deaths. We don't know with the Keys yet but at this point it seems that most of the deaths in Florida were avoidable. They were either from human mistake (the fall and genator deaths) or human incompatence (the nursing home)"

I wrote this:

"Read that last sentence of your post again--you do seem to be suggesting that God answered the prayers of those praying for Florida after God decided not to answer the prayers of those who prayed for all of those islands to our south. It's crummy theology in so many ways."

Another FB friend responded:

"The main message that I saw in this post was why aren't we giving God the credit for his help with this storm. True, there are so many who were tragically impacted (my daughter is in St Maarten and is living that tragedy now). However, I do believe that God did answer prayers and that it could have been so much worse if He hadn't. My heart goes out to those who were not as fortunate as we were here but I do believe that God should get all the glory for all blessings."

Again, the theology and the logic bothered me, and so I posted:

"I wish that God had answered my prayer to have the storm curve out to sea and not impact any of us at all. I just don't see prayer as working that way--which doesn't stop me from praying, as you can see. I don't blame God, either. I believe that God is there with us in every storm, but not to change the course of the storm. Otherwise, the theology is just unsustainable--why some prayers answered and not others? I don't think that God intervenes in the laws of the physical world that God created in a certain way."

And then minutes clicked by, and my inner voice accused me of a bit of hypocrisy.  It's not hypocrisy, so much, as believing two opposing viewpoints at once.  I posted this:

"But of course, I'll pray regardless. I'm sure that God hears our prayers and that having God by my side is better than not praying. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a very tiny human with a much smaller vision than God's--I could be wrong, and I'm not seeing the long view that God sees. I also think that if God intervenes, it's only when we ask. So, yes, I hedge my bets and pray and pray and pray, especially when the news looks grim."

I am fairly sure we haven't changed any of our minds.  I still don't know how they would explain the many things that prayer hasn't changed--can we rejoice when prayer goes our way, and live with the difficulty of coping when prayer doesn't.

The Facebook exchange above shows how I have wrestled with the issue--and I expect to wrestle with it my whole life.  I would like God to make the changes that I can't pull off by myself.  I would like to control God--and everyone and everything else in my life.

I just don't know that I can buy into that theology that if I pray hard enough, it will all turn out OK.  It often doesn't.  What do we say then?

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