When I was a youth, I remember stumbling upon the phrase “act of god.” I believe it was in lower case and I think it was in some document, insurance papers or a newspaper story I had read, I don’t remember which. But what I do remember was that it caused me to think. I asked my Dad what it meant and he gave me the common understanding of the phrase. It has little or nothing to do with ascribing the random acts of nature to a god, or to God. Essentially it is a way of describing and event that has no direct human cause. It comes in handy if you are in the insurance business as it gives you and escape clause for what seems to be the random events of life that no actuary could ever calculate. Here is a little Wiki blurb if your interested.
This came to mind as I was preparing to teach my confirmation class. We are going through the Bible this year and we are now covering the period of the Kings and Prophets. In the preparation materials I came across this statement. “In a prescientific era, every turn of fate, every natural event, was seen as coming from God’s hand and intention. This is not how we interpret our world. We know about the moral indifference of natural disaster, for example. It is not divine punishment for the sins of the people. We understand that history unfolds as a collision of circumstance and human power.” So God is not responsible for “acts of god?”
Ok, I understand the broader implication here, and don’t entirely disagree, but something sticks in my craw. Back in my seminary days, pre-pastor hood, we had long lingering conversations about listening for the small still voice of God. We would sit around in class or the caf with a cup of coffee and ponder how God is at work in so many ways so many small ways in peoples lives often in hushed tones of awe. We talked about how God is a creating God who is still at work in our world everyday, but often the emphasis would be on the individual, the small the personal.
Now I don’t disagree with any of what I have just written.
But I don’t wonder if we haven’t sold God short on things.
From our modern theological understandings God can and still does miracles, God and still “does.” But big scale things, things that happen that upset our sensationalists, well those, those we can not jibe with Jesus supposedly and thus they come under the “act of god” clause. But the very base of the Christian faith stands firmly on a a pretty big event, something that flies in the face of any possible insurance policy, and that would be the resurrection. That is an act of God and God wants us to know that it was His doing.
In our modern world is it so very hard to understand that God is still at work on the small and personal scale as well as on the epic scale of all creation. We might not always see why things happen, we may call things that occur great tragedies and those things happen everyday, is it so hard to understand that in the midst of all this God who is the Alpha and Omega the beginning and end of all things, maybe active to achieve His will which very well maybe beyond our scope of understanding?
When it comes to the stories of the Old Testament that can seem so punitive and manipulative from our vantage point is it so hard to see through the eyes of Christ that God really does know what God is doing? Later these same confirmation materials state: “Yet the confession of these stories is that God is deeply invested in God’s people. What happens in our national life together, how we manage our relationships with each other, both personal and civic, makes a difference to God. We are called to faithfulness, to focus our perspective, energy, and time on God’s will and way.”
I have no beef with that statement, but I think it draws God up short. God is not only invested in God’s people, but all of creation is His and there we have to trust in his promises to us, for us. We may not have any control over “acts of god” but we do have the promise that in the midst of life’s storms, and tragedies we have a Savoir.
My last thought is if we are going to stick God with all the bad stuff are we equally willing to give God credit for all the wonderful unexplained things that happen too?