Q&R with Brad – How do we pray regarding natural disasters, like these fires?
How do you pray these days regarding natural disasters, like the fires we’re seeing in the Northwest and in Turkey?
Is God in control? Is God controlling?
As you mentioned in A More Christlike God, God set the parameters for natural law to take place. So is there any point asking God to intervene and stop the fires? Does God do that?
First, let’s remember that God doesn’t DO control. BUT God’s love is mediated into this world through willing human partners who invite God’s participation. WE mediate God’s goodness as image-bearers in this world. God enters our world by invitation, and our prayers are invitations for God to participate without being coercive or controlling (i.e., unChristlike).
How does our mediation look? It looks like prayerful invitations for God’s mercy and also invokes our own participation as God’s agents of goodness (take firefighters, for example). So I pray, “Lord, have mercy,” believing that God will faithfully deliver mercy (God’s goodness experienced) … and watching attentively for how God’s mercy is manifest. I try not to dictate to God how that mercy must look, but nevertheless, I certainly tell God what I am hoping.
So as I pray for mercy, perhaps this will have an impact on the weather, wind direction, heat index (I don’t know) and on the availability, skills, and safety of those battling the fire (I hope), and on the safety of residents and their homes and towns (Lord, have mercy).
On the other hand, God must deal with the ways that humanity causes or exacerbates these problems. For example, God does not coerce or control us from our acts of defiance concerning the human causes of climate change, or the poor distribution of resources, or the poor priorities that create the conditions for forest fires and other tragedies … It does little good to ask for God’s help if I have stoked a fire with 10,000 gallons of gasoline and then try to spray it away with 8 ounces of water. For God to “intervene” in that case would violate both natural law and human freedom…
So while I pray, “Lord, have mercy,” I also hear God saying back to us, “People, have mercy!” That is, “be merciful as I am merciful.” We so often say, “Lord, fix our mess,” and I hear God, through the biblical prophets saying, “People, stop messing!” And so, as my friend Lazar Puhalo says, “We are the bowls of wrath. We are the four horsemen.” That is, we create war, famine, plagues, and death. The hope and prayer is that by the time we’re reduced to hiding in bunkers, we’ll finally resort to the better way of surrender to the Lamb.
Meanwhile, yes, I pray, “Lord, have mercy” and hope that our prayers create the creative space for God’s help.