Acts of God?

Published 9:15 am Friday, March 5, 2010

Do you know more about earthquakes today than you did three months ago? I know I do. Two horrific earthquakes have hit the Western Hemisphere, doing incredible harm to millions of people.

I haven’t heard anyone other than Pat Robertson say that these terrible events were God’s judgment on the people of Haiti or Chile. What a pleasant change. All too often we hear such pronouncements in the aftermath of a tragedy. The implication is, of course, that God has caused these events as punishment. Those being punished might be the ones who were the actual victims or the punishment might be intended for a larger audience.

Those of us who follow the liturgical calendar have as our Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday a reading from Luke 13. In it Jesus anticipates the reaction of people to a couple of tragic events that have happened. He says, did this happen because they were bad people? Were they being punished by God? Jesus tells them to not waste any time thinking that way. They should think instead about their own sins and repent. This is good advice as we respond to our present day tragedies.

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Perhaps some of you know that our son and his family live in Santiago, Chile. We just returned from there three weeks ago. The good news is they are all safe and had minimal physical damage to their house. The State Department makes sure its employees have good housing if at all possible.

I would hope we agree that the earthquake is not God’s punishment, but where does God fit into the picture? A couple of days after the major event our grandchildren were distressed because of the numerous, strong aftershocks. Such distress is common, for the aftershocks bring back powerful memories of the big event, and some of the aftershocks were actually very big themselves.

The kids kept asking to pray that God would stop the aftershocks. What would you tell these children? I suppose one could say that eventually God will stop them, but I don’t think that is going to strengthen the faith of a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old. Where does God fit into the program?

In some respects we have accepted the insurance industry’s description of these events as “acts of God.” For the insurance industry it is a way of describing an event which is beyond our control. Typically this language is only used to describe bad things.

How do we reconcile the evil in this world with a good God? What if we were to use the phrase “acts of God” to describe what we believe to be the most important acts of God, those things that center around Jesus, things like the cross and the resurrection, things that reveal his true love for us.

Instead of trying to explain why aftershocks keep coming even when we prayed for them to stop, we instead would say that we know a God who loves us and will take care of us, especially when we feel most afraid and uncertain.

How is our God connected to the earthquakes? Perhaps they are acts of God. Our God is the creator of a dynamic world where things happen, things which sometimes turn more than a bit ugly. However, the more powerful act of God is his loving care for us.