Thursday, 17 January 2013

Thunder and lightning very very frightening me

A Public Prayer Meeting for rain was held last Sunday. And lo, results were delivered. The Lord did what He had in mind. The thunder and the lightening in the sky as well as the storm rain falling on the roof were all reminders that He is the Lord Almighty and has His plans and will perform them. Hopefully His plan is to continue to bless the area with on-going moisture. More meetings are planned to ensure the Lord does just that, apparently. And we will just ignore the disconcerting fact that the Bureau of Meteorology had actually predicted Sunday’s rain two days before.

I admit that I have real trouble with the fundamentalist notion of prayer. The idea that we can ask God for anything that ails us, and get an answer has worried me for some years. In my student days, I was blessed to live next door to a very Pentecostal type, who laid hands on his car when it wouldn’t go, on the drain pipe when it was blocked, and on my thumb when it was stung by a bee and I was looking for tweezers.

I can’t get past the notion that God will happily unblock the drain of a wealthy (comparatively speaking) first world white person but let many small black children die of dehydration, starvation and various nasty diseases, even as their mothers cry out for mercy.

I also can’t get my head around the idea that climate change is bunk and that the Lord has the climate completely under control (except of course, for the times he forgets and we have to pray to get it Him—capital H, thanks very much—to change it) and that there is nothing we can, indeed should, be doing to modify our lifestyles and standard of living to reduce the emissions that are causing the problem. We can pray, because that is what Christians who believe everything is foreordained by the Lord, do.

You might well be asking at this time why bother praying for something the Lord has already ordained. Good question. I haven’t worked out the answer yet, but I am sure my Calvinistic friends would have some piece of cognitive dissonance to offer me. Apparently the dry weather has been caused by human sinfulness, and if people repent, things will no doubt change. Amazing how this sinfulness has coincided with the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere. Maybe it is a symbolic representation of it. Certainly it is caused by sinfulness of a sort, though not the kind our Calvinistic friend is talking about.

I notice that prayer is getting a similar sort of publicity in America at the moment. In the light of President Obama’s announcement about gun control, the Texan Governor, Rick Perry, has revealed he has his own plan for combating America's gun violence problem. Where President Obama has suggested banning certain automatic weapons and controlling sales of guns etc, the Texan governor announced that what was needed was not tougher gun control legislation, but prayer. Yep, Americans should simply pray for protection against being shot. If this was a successful strategy, I suggest that the casualty lists in both world wars would have been considerably smaller, peace in the Middle East would now be a reality, and in Northern Ireland the Orange marches would have disappeared into the realm of past history.

Like my friend the evangelical, Gov. Perry believes that there is a cause other than our own actions. Instead of sin, he talked about an "evil prowling" in the world that has found its way into vulnerable minds. I would suggest the evil is thinking that guns are the answer to violence, but then I am not a gun owner wedded to a constitutional amendment.

I think relying on prayer for protection against gun violence might prove difficult, as nearly 14,000 people die each year in the USA as a result of being shot. It is a sobering statistic. Australia, on the other hand, was far more pragmatic when faced with a gun massacre 14 years ago. In the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre in 1999, the then Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, banned semi-automatic and automatic weapons. There was a gun buy-back, and such weapons were handed in. Australia hasn’t had a gun massacre since this time.

John Howard is a conservative politician and a deeply religious Christian man. Yet he saw the light and the light was direct action. This doesn’t mean we can’t pray, of course, but surely prayer is meant not so much to manipulate God into doing stuff, but to also change us, and change us to change how we do things.

In the lectionary this year we are reading the Gospel of Luke. Luke’s Jesus makes it clear that prayer is to be backed up with action. This action entails giving our possessions to the poor, not extorting money from them, releasing them from debt and freeing the oppressed from the bonds of poverty and political oppression. It is sharing our coats and our homes and our hearts. Luke’s gospel is about enacting justice, and not praying the poor of the world out of sight and out of mind by asking God to fix the poverty that we created in the first place.

I am sure my friend will continue to pray for rain. For my part, I will be praying for the strength to challenge the industries and interests and governments that continue to pollute our lovely earth, and whose actions are right on track to render it uninhabitable. I will be praying that God will give me the courage to champion what is right, and to keep hope alive that somehow, the inhabitants of this earth will find a way to work together and move forward into a future of hope.


  1. I think Perry's view of prayer is more akin to sympathetic magic than any mainstream Christian view of prayer.