What is it about God and the weather that causes us to bring them together when it gets unusually wet? Two weekends ago we had the ridiculous storm in a teacup (sorry, not intentional) over Ukip councillor, David Silvester’s theologically naïve letter to his local newspaper claiming that the current excessive precipitation from the heavens is a sign that God is punishing us because of the legalisation of gay marriage. If it is God’s way of demonstrating his displeasure then you would have thought he’d have chucked in a plague of frogs or hail just for good measure too. When God decided to send a flood, he didn’t pick on a few sleepy villages in Somerset; he took out most of the Earth’s population in order to purge the corruption and violence that had become endemic and then afterwards He said we would never do it in that way again.
On Friday the respectable bastion of quality journalism that is The Sun newspaper announced that rather than blaming God for the dreadful January weather, it was time to call on His assistance to put a stop to it:
Today we urge rain-battered Brits to pray – with the patron Saint of good weather… Rev Susan Evans, whose Lincs church is named after Patron Saint Medard, last night led prayers – begging: “Dear Lord, we’ve had enough.”
So went the front page splash. Obviously considering this to be the number one concern of its readers, the Sun has decided it needed to sort things out by descending on an unsuspecting vicar along with a couple of clothed Page 3 girls, asking for some prayers to be said and then enlisting readers to have a go too in order to stir God into action. It looks like they were hedging their bets though. Right above the ‘BRING ME SUN SHRINE’ front page headline is Mystic Meg with ‘CHECK TO SEE IF SUNNIER DAYS ARE AHEAD – FEBRUARY STARS’.
It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry. This is puerile journalism, if it can be called journalism at all. Its superficiality is not out of keeping with many typical Sun stories, but what is intriguing is why the Sun has done it at all.
Watching stories on the news of flooding, damage and power cuts caused by natural occurrences often induces a sense of helplessness. What can be done to deal with the forces of nature that cannot be mastered? This feeling of vulnerability is even more acute if you are directly affected. Yesterday I was in contact with a friend whose property was on the verge of being flooded. All they could do was wait and hope and pray and ask others to pray too. After putting up what defences they could there was nothing else available. This is a natural human reaction and something the Sun has tapped into in their own inimitable way.
There is so much that most of us are able to control in our lives in this country that we have forgotten what it is like to live in desperate situations that are beyond our control. When I have visited places abroad where people are living in genuine and crushing poverty a desire to turn to God for help and sustenance is far more common. There is a commonplace understanding that the world cannot be controlled and restrained to suit our wishes.
Maybe that’s a reason why atheism is much less common in poorer countries. It’s not that they are ignorant, but they realise that without a higher power to turn to they will have next to no hope – and life without hope is desperate indeed.
We might have mostly suppressed that desire in the West to call on something supernatural over situations beyond our control, but it’s not gone completely whether it be flooding or believing that God can influence the Superbowl result as over half of Americans appear to think.
If you consider this rationally it makes little sense to pray for these situations unless you believe your prayers might be answered. At a subconscious level at least, humans want to pray. They might not know who to pray to or how, but that natural urge in the face of overwhelming odds is still present. Surely this is a sign that humans innately desire some sort of interaction with a supernatural being. And if there were no God why would this be the case? It takes a great deal of effort and thinking to see the world in a purely atheistic way, denying that a god would never intervene in our situations. Can we as a human race be that deluded?
The Sun’s prayer campaign may be little more than a big joke, but on closer inspection, it reveals something profound. Whether we like it or not, we are not in control of our destiny and only in God can we find our salvation. If the Sun by planting millions of seeds in its readers minds stirs thoughts that prayer can potentially can change our world and our lives, is that such a bad thing?
Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance. (Psalm 32:6,7)