As of this writing (Wednesday morning), Ivan the Terrible is about to land on the Gulf Coast and pummel its way northward. Along with everyone else, I am trying to anticipate the inevitable complications and possible peril this storm will bring. Shall we attempt to pray this storm away from us and our loved ones, leaving it to slam others instead?

Praying for and about the weather is a complicated matter, theologically speaking. Unlike the ancients who believed the sun was pulled across the sky by a god riding in a chariot, today we know the sun–and planet earth–are fixed in God-ordered but natural paths and orbits. So too is the weather. It follows certain God-ordained laws that meteorologists are just beginning to figure out.

So is it possible to pray bad weather away from one’s home or property? Jesus’ comment in the Sermon on the Mount, “It rains on the just and the unjust” would seem to preclude such a view (Mt 5:45). God doesn’t play favorites. The weather–like the sun, moon, and stars–plays by God’s rules. One of which is being good or “just” doesn’t buy one a waiver from difficult or even dangerous weather.

Elsewhere in the Bible, of course, there are instances of praying about the weather. Elijah atop Mount Carmel, praying for rain, comes to mind (1 Kings 17). In light of such biblical examples, far be it from me to say it’s wrong to pray about the weather. God, the loving Heavenly Father, no doubt revels in the chatter of his children, quite apart from the content of their prayers. And perhaps under extraordinary circumstances, God uses the energies of prayer to impact the weather much as a low pressure system might. Eisenhower’s convictions about the weather at Normandy come to mind. But that is not the ordinary state of things, nor would God do this for personal or private gain.

Far better, in my view, is to pray for good judgment, courage and resilience among the people about to be affected by Ivan. Pray for the rescue workers and the relief personnel. Pray for the grieving families who have lost a home or worst. Pray for generosity from those who can help alleviate the suffering terrible storms leave in their wake. Such prayers honor God and love others. That’s the Jesus way.

Bob Setzer Jr. is pastor of First Baptist Church in Macon, Ga.

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