Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Natural disasters - why pray?

In the past week the world has been rocked by another terrible tragedy. On April 25, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 struck the city of Nepal, leaving massive destruction and a death toll of more than 4000 people. That number is predicted to grow even higher as the extent of the damage unfolds and more days pass.

Often in times like this many Christians and perhaps Christadelphians feel that they should pray for the survivors and for the rescue efforts. It also seems like part of our culture to respect such behaviour as if those praying are performing some noble act of kindness. So I guess I'm breaking taboo a little by questioning the value of praying to a god after a natural disaster such as this.

(Actually, the problem isn't prayer so much as those who pray and then don't do anything else. It's the something else you do that makes all the difference. Please donate if you haven't already!)

Why pray for God's help after a natural disaster?

It would certainly not make sense to pray to the same god who caused the earthquake in the first place. Or worse, if you believe in an all-powerful deity who has a perfect plan for the world, then you must accept that this earthquake (and indeed all earthquakes) was also part of God's plan. Why then would you pray to fix it? Did God make a mistake?

Even if you don't believe the earthquake was caused by a god, Christadelphians still insist that God is all-knowing, so he would have known the earthquake was coming, yet didn't warn anyone. Christadelphians also believe that God is all-powerful, so he could have prevented the earthquake but did not. Yet Christadelphians believe God is all-loving. Is this the way an all-loving God would behave? What if we all behaved this way? Aren't Christadelphians seeking to become like God?

Why then would you pray to this god to help the survivors? What good would it do? The kind of god worth praying to, wouldn't have allowed this event to happen in the first place. Any god who did allow the event to happen is clearly not a god to be entrusted with preserving or rescuing human lives!

You know, it often seems as if God does not actually exist, and we are left to face natural disasters on our own.

The benevolent killer

I know what you're probably thinking. God in his infinite wisdom must have had a very good reason for either causing or allowing the earthquake to happen, but us mere mortals simply don't or cannot know what that reason is.

It's the ultimate cop-out for addressing the problem of natural evil. Unfortunately for those making this kind of claim, it implies that there could possibly be a good reason for killing thousands of people. If you wish to make this argument, the burden is on you to come up with such a reason and apply it to this particular case. Moreover, if you have ever wondered what it's like to be a lawyer representing a mass murderer in court and attempting to get them free, well, now you know.

Some will say, "but look at all the good that comes out of it". Sure, there will doubtless be many heart-warming stories of human generosity and bravery, but the ends don't justify the means. Furthermore, this is human generosity and bravery we are talking about. No god had anything to do with it.

Besides, are you really saying that God actively causes natural disasters killing thousands of people just so that the people who survive can show kindness to each other? What kind of twisted psychopath would do such a thing?

Why pray at all?

Perhaps God won't help unless we ask him to. I ask again, is that what an all-loving God would do?

Then again,
"your Father knows what you need before you ask him"
Matthew 6:8
I guess he just wants to hear you beg.

So what can we do that will actually help the victims of natural disasters?

Put yourself in the shoes of the survivors. What would you rather people do for you? Mumble a few words to their favourite deity? or provide real, tangible help (food, clothing, shelter)?

Prayer helps no one. Instead it gives you an inflated ego and a false satisfaction that you did something to help, when in fact you did not. Actually, I personally don't care if you do pray. Just be sure to help in tangible ways as well.

If you're not able to help physically, you can always donate money. If you are unable to donate money, don't stress. There are many people who can.

There are tremendous rescue and relief efforts currently under way in Nepal and there are a number of ways you can donate. I've listed some excellent ways below.

Thank you!