Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Act of God

Most folks around here already know that I was prevented from teaching at the seminary in Kiev, Ukraine this week by the volcano in Iceland. I was on the all-night flight to nowhere, taking off from Houston, getting turned around as the volcano erupted, and landing seven hours later right back where we started. At least I was fortunate to be able to get back home, unlike the tens of thousands who are stranded.

I've watched all the reports on CNN and I had many conversations with stranded travelers from the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany while I was still in Houston, and one phrase kept turning up over and over - "an act of God." This is not really a biblical phrase, although scripture tells us about all kinds of things that God does. No, I'm guessing we made up this phrase ourselves to describe those horrific moments when nature violently reminds us just how vulnerable and helpless we are. So whenever nature seems to go on a rampage, such as asteroids crashing to earth, volcanoes erupting, earthquakes leaving cities in shambles, tornadoes tossing trailer houses across the Midwest, we survey the wreckage and debris and call it, "An act of God."

And, I guess there's a sense in which that statement is very true. After all, God is the Creator, isn't He? He's the Big Guy who started this show in the first place, whether you think it took six days or six million years. God has established the laws by which this universe exists, from the tiniest molecule to the grandest galaxy. He made the rules, and He is ultimately responsible.

But, I have to tell you, I'm a little uncomfortable with that phrase, "an act of God." When airlines use it, they mean, "No refund." When insurance companies use it, they mean, "You're not covered." When some religious types use it, they mean "God is punishing you." When children hear that phrase, they wonder, "Is God mad at us?" When skeptics ponder those words, they point to the randomness of nature and say, "See, there is no God who rewards the good and judges the wicked."

An act of God. What do you make of it? Well, I don't think God sits around playing with nature like a kid playing with his X-Box, constantly changing the game options to make it more interesting. The Creator created and nature will continue to play by His rules - rules that we can only dimly comprehend, even in our scientific sophistication. Nature will never be tamed or predictable or controlled and neither will the Creator. Get used to it. This is life on planet Earth.

2 comments:

John McCallum said...

A very interesting post, Drew. Thanks for the first-hand reflections after your experience. Your comment about "rules we dimly comprehend" is the key for me. Who knows which of these natural things result because God just lets nature do its thing and which he calls forth for reasons we can't understand? Who knows when God has perhaps intervened and said "No!" to something that would have happened naturally unless God changed its course. "Rules we dimly comprehend." And why is it that only disasters get tagged as "acts of God." What about the healthy birth of a baby or the timely rain that refreshes the earth. I agree that if we put our trust in God, we don't need to worry about categorizing every natural thing that comes along. Thanks again for the thoughtful post.

Drew Hill said...

Good thoughts, John. I think when we get in trouble is when we try to "categorize every natural thing" and pronounce God's purposes as if we know the mind of God. Our puny little brains aren't up to it.