I posted the video that inspired this question to my Facebook page, and it got a couple of nice comments. So I thought I’d expand my thinking on it into a blog entry.
The question for this blog is: Would it be wrong to pray for rain?
The answer is: it depends, I suppose.
If you’re a West Texas rancher, and you’re in the middle of a long drought, then it’s probably an understandable petition to God.
If you’re allegedly a Christian minister, and you’re clearly wishing for God to, ahem, rain down judgement on your adversaries, then the answer is:
“Yes….it’s wrong to pray for rain.”
And I know that second example sounds crazy. But it happened just a few weeks back, when a member of “Focus on the Family” actually encouraged people to pray for rain on the night of Obama’s acceptance speech.
Like I said, I had heard about this in conversation. But to see the video? It’s amazing. And deserves further unpacking.
The guy in this video is Stuart Shepherd who, from what I can tell, is some kind of functionary at “Focus on the Family.”
This video is not cute. It’s not innocuous. It’s not harmless.
This video borders on being evil propaganda. It’s put forth in a folksy, passive-aggressive voice. But it’s propaganda nonetheless.
You’ve got to look beyond his “sweet” tone here. (He’s a mild mannered ministers here, right? What could be wrong with him?)
The problem is the underlying, and completely non-Christian belief, that God will run errands for you, smiting your enemies if only you ask.
Let me say this in as non-passive-aggressive a tone as I can:
There is nothing Christian about this belief. In fact, it is anti-Christian.
God does not run errands for us. God does not create cosmic Voodoo dolls based on the shapes of our prayers. God does not wish to, or actually, reign evil down upon those with whom we disagree. To suggest otherwise –especially through a video that suggests widespread meteorological havoc on innocent people– goes against every idea of a good, merciful and loving God.
This, of course, is not the first time that errand boys for the Religious Right have made such associations. Remember after September 11th? Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell basically claimed that 911 was God’s wrath because of feminists, gays/lesbians, liberals, and the like.
Again, this isn’t just wrongheaded, logically. It is, quite literally, anti-Christian. And I can show you the scriptures to prove it.
In the Gospels, Jesus speaks to this very issue of horrible natural calamities inflicted on innocent people. In fact, he does it twice:
Luke 13: 1-3
“At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you…”
Jesus is referring to a incident in which Galileans were offering sacrifice to God. This incident probably did *not* take place at the Temple in Jerusalem. It’s probably something that happened at a non-orthodox shrine somewhere in Galilee. What happens is that, right in the midst of their religious celebration, Pontius Pilate comes in and slaughters them all. The blood of the sacrificed animals mingles with the blood of the people.
It’s a horrible scene.
It’s the kind of scene that often causes people to ask:
Why would this happen?
Did God let this happen?
Is this a punishment from God?
In the face of senseless tragedy, we often yearn for reasons. And we often turn to the belief that the people involved must have done something wrong. If there is fault, it must be their own.
So, the first thing to keep in the front of your brain is that, to Jesus’ audience that day, these Galileans would have been religious enemies. If not enemies, then at least rivals. Jesus’ audience probably considered them infidels.
Jesus clearly would have known this. And so you then have to assume he uses them as examples on purpose. Because, if God’s going rein down terror on anyone, then surely it would be to our enemies, right?
But Jesus clearly says NO.
No, God did not cause Pontius Pilate to slaughter these Galileans.
No, that’s not how God works.
On another day, Jesus is in the presence of a blind person. His own disciples fall into the way of thinking that somebody must have sinned for bad things to happen. They ask Jesus: “Who sinned, the blind man or his parents?”
These religious leaders clear assume somebody must have.
NOBODY. Nobody sinned. Nobody did anything to cause the person to be blind.
So, the first thing we can clearly say is that God does not bring evil things upon others just because we pray for them or want them.
It did not rain the night of Obama’s speech. And, even it had, God would not have caused that just to ruin Obama’s party.
I mean, think about it for a moment: Shepherd really expected God to rain down a flood on Denver, possibly harming millions of innocent people, just to make a point about Obama?
And, as I’ve said, anti-Christian.
There are numerous examples in the Bible of how God does NOT answer these kinds of prayers. In fact, the most salient example comes from the Book of Jonah, at the very end of the story.
At the end of that story, Jonah is ticked off. Dare I say? He’s pissed. He’s done everything God asked him to do, and brought a word of judgement against the City of Nineveh.
He has done none of it willingly. This most unwilling prophet ever has tried to run the other direction, commit suicide, and under-sell his message, all just to get out of doing what God has asked him to do.
But he finally capitulates and delivers the message, expecting (perhaps even hoping?) that the result will be a fire and brimstone bonanza.
Instead, the people of Nineveh repent and God forgives them.
Jonah somehow believes he deserves a good fire and brimstone reward. Because he delivered his message, he deserves to see a little destruction and death. And, as he reveals in the story, he secretly knows God is a softie who wanted to forgive the people all along. So, he’s pissed.
Finally, as the story’s end, God takes Jonah to task for being more concerned with a dying bush than with the lives of the people of Nineveh.
The point to it all: God does not rain down judgement on others, just because we hope for it, or pray for it.
I am most fascinated that Shepherd’s request is so specific. When he asks for rain, he says: “Not flood people out of their houses rain. Just swamp-the-intersections rain…”
So, not only is he praying for disaster to strike his enemies, he’s also praying for very specific disaster.
But there’s is an old spiritual expression about prayer: Be careful what you pray for, because you just might get it.
I happen to believe in the power of prayer. But I also happen to believe prayer is not a cosmic slot machine for the things we want, or a mafia enforcer for the things we hate. The things we pray for may happen. But they often happen in God’s good time, and with perhaps quite different detail than we might have wanted or expected.
Pray for rain, and you might get far more than small street flooding. You might get tornados or wind sheer.
Be careful what you pray for, because you just might get it.
Jesus actually mentioned something about this too. He once reminded us that God sends rain on the just and on the unjust. There’s really no way to pray for specifically targeted natural disasters.
Of course, what happened to Stuart Shepherd is that God apparently did not listen to his prayers at all. And I could have told you ahead of time that, even if it had rained that night –had it not been the spotless 65 degree evening that it was– God would not have been the cause, simply to ruin Obama’s night.
This weekend, I have heard some commenting about Gustav, and some glee about the fact that it’s making land as the Republican Convention kicks off. And, in fact, Hanna will probably make land about the time that meeting ends.Two hurricanes, book-ending that convention!!!
I know enough to know that there is a small place inside the hearts of many of my friends that might think: “Ha! They get what they deserve. They prayed to God for rain on Obama, and got two hurricanes for McCain.”
So, let me speak to that too, and remind you of everything I have just said: God doesn’t send such stuff to punish anyone. I can’t imagine that even IF God is terribly angry at the Republican Party, that God would punish Aunt Joyce in Gulfport….or Dave Thomas and his family in Biloxi. Or all the good people I mentioned in this blog entry.
Even if you see surface irony here, to believes such things makes you no better than Stuart Shepherd.
Speaking of Shepherd, you might think that he’s not really wishing ill on his “enemies,” or that he’s just joking about it. But, that’s not what he himself says near the end. Near the very end, he finally comes out and says it:
“But if God decides –and it’s always up to God to decide– that rain of Biblical proportions would be a good and proper meteorological condition for that evening….we’ll see it, and we’ll say that ‘It is good.'”
It is good?
It is good to pray for harm to come to your enemies? Really?
Jeez, Stuart. You read that Bible much? Or are you too busy making videos?
Because the Jesus I know would totally disagree with you. And, of all the things you say in this video, this is the easiest to disprove.
Jesus doesn’t say we are to pray evil upon our enemies. Jesus encourages us to pray kindness toward them. Right here. Here’s the text and link so you can look it up yourself:
Matthew 5: 43-48:
““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
See? Praying for evil to come to our enemies is actually un-Christian.
In fact, Jesus says, non-believers do that. People of faith should love their enemies, and pray for, not against, those who persecute them. It’s an incredibly hard and challenging thing to do –perhaps among the most challenging of all Jesus’ commands– but it’s Jesus’ way.
So, in sum, I can’t presume to know the kind of god you are describing in this video, Stuart Shepherd.
But I know, pretty definitely, it’s not Jesus.