August 5, 2011

Why Do People Pray During Disasters When God Probably Caused Them?

In "Voices of Faith," religious leaders answer readers' questions.

In "Voices of Faith," religious leaders answer readers' questions.

God is not the cause

The Rev. Duke Tufty, Unity Temple on the Plaza, Kansas City, Mo.: I don't believe there is an old man with long white hair and beard sitting on a throne somewhere in the far off reaches of the universe pointing his finger down at the Earth and demanding a flood, tornado, earthquake or tidal wave take place. God doesn't cause disasters.

Natural disasters are not evil or a failure of God. Earthquakes are a part of the processes that keep the Earth living and suitable for life. Tornadoes are formed when contrasting walls of air meet and swirl together. Because we have paved thousands of acres of earth as well as drained wetlands, straightened rivers and built shoddy containment structures that fail, many floods occur. There are natural disasters; There are natural disasters caused by man; There are no natural disasters caused by God.

People pray because it is the most effective way to express their care, concern, hope, love and desired outcome for others. It is something a person can do when feeling helpless in every other way. Prayer does have an effect, and it keeps us from imagining the most horrific possibility. Prayer is the sacred touch that turns worry, fear and anxiety into strength, confidence and courage.

Suffering is a mystery

The Rev. Justin Hoye, pastor at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Kansas City: Catholics understand that God permits many things in life, the consequences of creation's free interaction. That is, God's permissive will allows natural disasters. As for why particular storms assail us — natural, manmade or otherwise, the Christian accepts that this will often remain a mystery.

The Psalms are a particularly good place to seek words that express this common denominator of humanity: the mystery of suffering. In the Psalmist's words, we find solidarity through the voice of one who also knows the storms of life and who verbalizes that mix of uncertainty and trust.

We experience great trial, distress and fear, and yet in spite of the maelstrom in our midst, I and others believe that all falls under God's watchful, providential care.

Christians profess that Jesus Christ is the safeguard of this truth: the promise, in flesh and blood, that God does not abandon us in moments of distress, but enters our condition to see us through into new life. We profess that God is intimately concerned with each and every person he creates.

Prayers during natural disasters are, in many ways, a signal of hope that God's permissive will is not haphazard or unaware. Rather, prayer during a natural disaster recognizes that even when we don't understand why these events occur, we confidently trust that God can bring us through.

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