Tue | Jul 17, 2018

Garth Minott | Hurricanes and evil

Published:Sunday | October 9, 2016 | 12:00 AMGarth Minott
In this October 3 photo, Haitian women and children get ready to sleep on the floor of the Padre Chava migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Haitian men, women and children regularly spend the night just outside the busiest US border crossing.

Is a hurricane an evil thing? This is the question I have had to ask myself as we continue to talk about Hurricane Matthew. On the Thursday of the week prior to the passage of the storm, I listened to a radio programme that featured prayers of intercession based on the impending impact of the hurricane on Jamaica. The host of the programme invited special guests, known as intercessors, along with listeners to offer prayers of intercessions in response to the threat of the hurricane.

I was especially struck by the prayers that labelled the hurricane evil, a demon and a wicked instrument that must be rebuffed or, rather, rebuked at all cost.

Prayers, punctuated by references to the need to make preparation for the hurricane, and the need to take all precautions necessary, were nevertheless focused on the evils of the hurricane.

Numerous references to the wicked actions the hurricane can potentially unleash on the country were announced with much fanfare. These references were placed alongside the idea that though wicked people are in Jamaica, and deserve to be punished, nevertheless, the prayers of the righteous are sufficient to make God turn away the evil onslaught of the hurricane.


Prayers to be spared


It's interesting to note that the prayers requesting the hurricane be turned away never took the time to recognise that the same evil being prayed away from Jamaica could potentially impact the lives of persons from other nations. The intercessors were less attentive to the needs of our sisters and brothers in other territories who were affected by the hurricane. Prayers for them were not forthcoming, as they were outside the frame of reference of good or evil.

Barack Obama and the government of the United States represent an approach that gives another side to the intercessors' prayers concerning the hurricane as evil. Their actions reflect the need for effective preparation for a hurricane, as was acknowledged by the intercessors. In preparation for the possible impact of the hurricane on the southern coast of the United States, President Obama took steps to put all systems on alert to manage in the aftermath of the hurricane. At the same time, such preparation was taking place, steps were being taken to send relief supplies into Haiti, particularly in the southern section of the country that was badly affected by the storm.

Similarly, the Jamaican Government, though having to address the problems that occurred in a number of shelters, including the bad behaviour of some of those who occupied them, were nevertheless preparing to send people and resources to Haiti. These actions by both governments are all humanitarian.

Theodicy, or 'the vindication of divine providence in view of the existence of evil', is the term used by theologians to describe the approach taken by the intercessors in describing the hurricane as evil or demonic. The problem for theodicy is how to explain bad things happening to people in the face of a good God in charge of the world. Both the question and the answer are as old as human civilisation.


Chasing away evil


Yet, a timely approach to both the question and the answer are found in the book of Job. The Book of Job faces squarely the question of how people of faith account for the presence of evil while believing in a good God. The answer given by the writer of the book of Job is summarised in the use of the word wisdom and is found in chapter 28:12-28. The point made by the writer is that the answer to the problem of evil is not to be simply prayed away but faced squarely as a reality of life that must be dealt with as part of life. In other words, we are not called so much to pray away or explain away evil as we are called to believe and trust in God.

In the face of impending disaster, such as is often caused by a hurricane, the response of the human being is to trust God and do everything to protect and preserve life and property.

What then should be our approach in the face of any impending natural disaster? Two things are possible and they are summed up in the great commandment given by Jesus: love God and love your neighbour as yourself.

It is true that the problem of evil is not solved by our humanitarian response. But, who says the problem of evil is something to be solved? In any event, it is not for us to label the forces of nature, like a hurricane, as evil. Though the aftermath of a hurricane can result in evil actions and consequences, this does not mean a hurricane is evil or demonic in and of itself.

So, is a hurricane evil or demonic? By no means; it is not appropriate to call a natural phenomenon evil or demonic, rather, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc, are ways in which nature cleanses and renews itself. God say that these things were good and we should do likewise. In the face of these natural disasters we are called to love God and love our neighbours as ourselves. We can do so by being prepared for natural disasters and be responsive to the needs of others in the aftermath of any natural disaster.

I end with the following quote from Marilyn Adamson: "God has offered to answer the prayers of his children (those who have received him into their lives and seek to follow him). He asks us to take any concerns to him in prayer and he will act upon it according to his will. As we deal with difficulties, we are to cast our cares on him and receive from him a peace that defies the circumstances. The basis for our hope and faith is the character of God himself. The better we know him, the more apt we are to trust him."

- Canon Garth Minott is a member of the Public Theology Forum. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.