Was the Sun’s prayer campaign an entirely stupid idea?

Sun Newspaper Sun Shrine frontWhat 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’.

Sun Newspaper Sun Shrine insideIt’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)

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12 replies

  1. Well it does work sometimes. When I was an undergraduate in the 1960s, after a bright, crisp February day I went to College Evensong and when we got to the Intercessions the Vice-Principal recited the 1928 Prayer Book Collect “For Seasonable Weather”. That night it snowed…

    Frank Cranmer

    • Thanks Frank! I do pray about the weather sometimes and am sure God can change it if he chooses to. Look at Jesus and the storm on Lake Galilee. Not sure the Sun is His first port of call though…

      My son’s last birthday party was an outside event on an afternoon when it should have been raining. We prayed in the morning and the rain held of until five minutes after it finished. The problem with this sort of prayer is how do you judge if it was God or not? I guess that’s part of the joy of faith.

  2. The SUN is always a good laugh but your right it reveals something about being human here. Load of people ask me to have a word to sort the rain out. After all there is a prayer in the prayer book about it. Did a blog about this last year as we prayed for sun for our fete


    • Thanks. It’s a good piece. You’re right. God is not a slot machine where you put the prayer in, pull the level and hope we get lucky. I do think that if we know him well as part of the conversation we can approach him with confidence and ask for the things we feel we need alongside being guided by him. The more time we spend with him the more we are likely to see things from God’s perspective.

  3. No, but seriously. There is a danger in assuming that we pray for something, it happens – and therefore that God has answered that prayer.

    I was once at Sunday Eucharist at a church (which had better be nameless) where, after the service, one of the regulars showed me the new piano. She told me that when they had found the piano they hadn’t had the necessary £3,000 to buy it. So they prayed about it and a fortnight later received a letter out of the blue from a firm of solicitors telling them that a former congregant had left them £4,000 in her will. When she said that this was God answering their prayers, I’m afraid I had a severe attack of Quaker plain speaking and replied, “And do you seriously think God knocks off little old ladies so that you can have new pianos?” Rather brutal, maybe, but I cannot believe that prayer works like that.

    • “Rather brutal” indeed if you are suggesting that God had the little old lady “knocked off” in direct answer to their prayers – do you really think that their original prayer would have been that prescriptive?! I’d prefer instead to think of those “God-incidences”, i.e. where improbable co-incidences seem to occur after sharing with God in prayer. Surely, there is a far greater danger in assuming that when we pray for something, that nothing happens – and therefore that God does not answer prayer. He does, although not always in the way we expect.

  4. From what I read I thought it was a largely positive front page even if it was superficial. Before the shop manager ordered me to put the paper down (“People don’t buy them after you read them” he stated (‘see how I suffer?’)), I read the part where The Sun asked everyone to pray.

    Few papers do that anymore. Okay, so the rain continues and a million and one people refuse to pray that the rain will stop (for one reason or the other (allegedly because war with God means giving him the silent treatment). But what is more God-like? Is it someone telling the country that the floods are God’s judgement because of the latest political legislation? Or is it those who are trying to offer solutions in the crisis?

    Seriously, what is more God-like? Is it a paper which an elitist media look down on expressing a view that people should pray? Or is it a theologically opinion on how sometimes God will judge a nation (after all, take a look at what happened to Jerusalem after they rejected Christ…etc. etc.)?

    We can’t win. The people can’t win. Even if the whole country prayed for the rain to stop there would be a segment of the Christian community who would say that we deserve the flooding and a whole shedload of people who feel guilty enough to believe them.

    Maybe we do. Maybe we deserve to suffer a recession, austerity measures and floods and diseases and crime and all the other problems we have. The people suffer for the corruption of Government and it isn’t fair.

    But come the revival I don’t think this particular Sun front page will be condemned.

    (As for the jingoistic, warmongering Sun front pages which marry the pen with the sword…they are another story..)

  5. To continue the line of anecdotes started by Frank Cranmer, I heard in Oxford that other societies would schedule their outdoor events to coincide with the Christian Union BBQ, knowing that the Christians would be praying hard for fine weather 😛

    More seriously, I can’t share Gillan and Nick’s optimism about this. This is a light-hearted filler on a slow news day, reminding people of the offensive comments by the right-wing councillor. It shows that the God of battles has become a joke to most Brits. This is no more spiritually significant than ‘I saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus’. Maybe tomorrow they’ll have a Harry Potter spell for rain – they are both just literary allusions/’memes’ to build humour around.

    It’s also noteworthy that they are seriously confused about who they are praying to. The headline says “to St Medard”, while other texts mention ‘Lord’ and ‘God’. And it’s a “Sun shrine” -and why not, since The Sun comfortably beats the Bible as the nation’s choice for daily reading and meditation?

    However, it’s an open door for Christians to have conversations about God’s sovereignty and to learn who our friends and neighbours consider to be in control. I was in China at the time of the 2008 earthquake and heard colleagues and friends asking “Why didn’t the government stop, or at least predict, the earthquake?” Although they were far from committed Marxists, that worldview permeated their thinking so much that they could not accept the existence of natural forces beyond human control. If our friends are really blaming God for the rain, we know they have some sort of theistic framework…

  6. Dear God. I know you’ve got everything planned to the minutest detail, but could you please make it stop raining for little old me. I know that being omniscient means you already know that I’m going to ask this, so you know what your answer will be, but if you could see your way to ignoring that for the moment, I’d be most grateful.

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