I’m a bit of a weather enthusiast, and moving to Florida has given me the opportunity to experience something we don’t have in Illinois: hurricanes, and their less intense cousin, tropical storms. Not very many have threatened the United States this season, but that’s recently changed with the development of tropical storm Isaac. We’re far enough inland that we won’t get much more than some wind and rain, but others won’t be so lucky. While Isaac was initially predicted to hit the west coast of Florida, it’s now headed directly for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Reverend Jesten Peters of Keys of Authority Ministries thinks she had something to do with this. As part of the Pray Tampa Bay initiative, which works for “the Cleansing, Protection and Revival of Tampa Bay”, Peters has organized prayers for tropical storm Isaac to move away from Tampa and the Republican National Convention. Peters told the Christian Broadcasting Network:
We have had lots and lots of people praying around the clock that it would move, and after you watch from the very beginning where they were saying it was coming, and now where they say it is going, then it has really moved out of the way for us, and we appreciate God doing that and moving it for us.
Indeed, Isaac did move. Instead of striking Florida as a tropical storm and rapidly dissipating over land, it’s now charging across the Gulf of Mexico and intensifying into a hurricane that will almost certainly hit New Orleans.
While I doubt anyone was hoping that Louisiana would be damaged by a hurricane, the limitations of prayer and those who use it are especially obvious in a case like this. Is there any reason that Peters and her team haven’t been praying for every tropical storm to veer out to sea instead of making landfall? Are Tampa and the RNC her only concern, and not the 19 people who were killed by Isaac in Haiti? Or, if they didn’t get their bright idea until the storm was already here, why not just pray for it to disappear or go back the way it came? If God can nudge a hurricane away from Republicans, why can’t he destroy it, or make it go backwards?
But Peters and her group did not pray for any of this, because they knew it wouldn’t happen. A storm shifting from its predicted track is nothing special – it happens all the time whether you pray to your gods or not. But a complete absence of tropical storms threatening the United States is highly unlikely; even in the least active season on record, 22 people in Texas were killed by a hurricane. And the sudden dissipation or reversal of a rapidly intensifying tropical cyclone is practically impossible. Does Peters believe there’s any real risk that New Orleans might pray hard enough to send the hurricane back to Tampa? Obviously not.
These are things that might actually require some supernatural intervention, yet this is exactly what Pray Tampa Bay did not ask for. Instead, they only asked God for something that would be fully explainable in terms of natural phenomena. I think they know exactly what’s going on here: they don’t honestly expect that the laws of nature will be suspended in an obvious and visible fashion, even if they do ask God for it. They’re just looking for any sign that could possibly indicate that their prayers actually did anything.
But in trying to make God responsible for a storm having shifted, they’ve put themselves in an awkward situation: they now have to deal with the ugly implications of the unavoidable fact that it still has to go somewhere. Really, was no one in New Orleans also praying for the storm to miss them, or was the RNC just more important? How many people are going to die so a convention can go ahead? If you’re going to take responsibility for moving an entire hurricane, you’re also responsible for where you move it to.
But perhaps some believers still prefer this disturbing conclusion to the alternative: admitting that God has nothing to do with it. After all, if your god can only operate in ways that are already accounted for by the mindless workings of natural laws, who needs him?