Pray for rain

Aug 10, 2022 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

The English have always talked about the weather. Because of our geography, weather is often changeable. This gives an opportunity to engage in smalltalk on the basis of shared experience. perhaps this convention developed over centuries as a way of building community cohesion, overcoming bitter divisions of civil wars or conflicts around religion or class.

But now, talking about the weather can reveal and entrench new tribal standoffs. “Cor, it’s hot today” can now be interpreted not as a way of initiating friendly conversation with a neighbour or stranger, but as an opening gambit to a rant about climate change getting out of control. Or, on the other hand, it might be a perfectly innocent comment about the weather, but it’s a cue for the person on the other side of the political divide to take aim at woke orthodoxies. “Can’t handle the heat? Go and live in Norway – don’t force your left wing views on me!”

The hot weather, and worse, weeks of drought in southern England, have led to a steady increase in volume of those who say that the climate is at a tipping point, and something really must be done on a massive scale. We must all lend our voice to demand change in government policy towards radical action – relentless, and if necessary sacrificially expensive, focus on zero emissions. Christians are joining this call. It is “prophetic”; it is the gospel response to “the sharpest and deepest problem facing our world”.

In response to this, there are those on the other side who see any mention of climate change, any expression of concern about pollution or excessive energy use, any suggestion that home insulation, fewer flights, low emission cars and water conservation might be a good idea, as essentially part of an evil socialist agenda.


What should be the faithful Christian response? On one hand, we need to say clearly that virtue-signalling our uncritical alignment with the environmental agenda, and adding our voice to that of the myriad lobbyists calling for trillions of government investment in a new green economy, should not be confused with Christian mission and can sometimes obscure the gospel. This is because the “deepest and sharpest problem” facing humanity is not drought and floods, even if these are life threatening in many parts of the world; even if it can be proved that these are increasing because of careless human stewardship of the earth. Rather the most serious problem is alienation from the creator; the inward individual and corporate bias towards self and away from God, which the bible calls ‘sin’, and of which creation’s groanings are a sign. The worst problem we have is the threat to our eternal future. There may not be a ‘planet B’, but there is certainly a heaven and a hell.

On the other hand, we must also reject the view that stewardship of the planet has nothing to do with Christian discipleship, and that economic growth in my country at all costs, and defending my rights to ensure my own personal freedom and comforts, are somehow associated with biblical Christian faith because both are seen as ‘conservative’. If there is no rain and temperatures are getting higher, to dismiss concern about this is not godly, but a sign of immature urban detachment from the physical realities of life just as much as support for transgender ideology. Where is our food going to come from if there’s no rain?

The witness of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans at the recent Lambeth Conference is an example of a wise approach to these issues. Many of them come from contexts of food insecurity, poverty and conflict. They said in their Conference-concluding Communique:

We know very well the growing inequalities of wealth, the impact of climate change, and the need for the administration of justice and authority for all without corruption or abuse.

In other words, they did not deny climate change – they see it in front of their eyes, as lakes dry up and pastures become sandy deserts. But this does not mean that their understanding of the gospel and Christian mission should change. The spiritual realities and evangelistic priorities remain the same. So they say:

We believe that the revealed Word of God is life-changing, enabling a person to be free and whole. We are also, therefore, duty-bound in love to our fellow human being to ‘hold fast to the word of life’ (Phil. 2;19) and to hold it forth to the world God loves. That is why we are calling the whole Communion to biblical faithfulness.

Another good source of wisdom is the Book of Common Prayer.  Cranmer put together a short list of ‘Prayers and Thanksgivings upon various occasions’, covering urgent needs as a nation. The first prayer on the list is for rain.

O God our heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to all them that seek thy kingdom, and the righteousness thereof, all things necessary to their bodily sustenance; send us, we beseech thee, in this our necessity, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth to our comfort, and to thy honour, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The prayer for rain comes before prayers for peace, or good health in time of pandemic, or good government. The first prayer of thanks, after the general thanksgiving, is for rain when it comes. There is also a prayer “in the time of dearth and famine”; perhaps what we would refer to today as recession and cost of living crisis.

Behold we beseech thee, the afflictions of our people, and grant that the scarcity and dearth, which we do now most justly suffer for our iniquity, may through thy goodness be mercifully turned into cheapness and plenty…

It’s a recognition that our very survival day to day is the gift of the creator; that he is good and loving and listens to our prayers. Most controversially, there may be a connection between our rebellion against God, our wrong thoughts and actions towards one another, and the disruption in the climate which causes drought and other shortages.

So, there is no rain and the land bakes. There is a need to bring biblical wisdom to bear on issues of climate science, politics and economics, and this may involve taking a side in a debate, so I’m not advocating pietistic withdrawal. But, rather than jump into one tribe or the other on the left or the right in posturing and argument, should we not as Christians first be taking a lead in humbling ourselves before the creator, repenting of our sin, and praying: “Lord send the rain”, physically and spiritually?

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