Why Are Bad Things Acts of God?
Vol: 116 Issue: 26 Thursday, May 26, 2011
Catastrophes like the ongoing Midwest tornado outbreak are called “acts of God” by insurance companies to distinguish them from deliberate acts undertaken by men, such as destruction in time of war, for example.
In legal terms, an “act of God” is a “natural catastrophe that no one can foresee or prevent including, but not limited to, an earthquake, tsunami, volcanic eruption or tornado.”
Christians also view such natural catastrophes as “acts of God” except that Christians mean it in the entirely literal sense of the word. A sparrow does not fall from the sky without the Father’s knowledge, for example.
To an insurance company, an “act of God” is defined by its randomness. Most things happen according to statistical probability spread over time and are therefore foreseeable and predictable – acts of God are not.
By this understanding an “act of God” describes a blind force of nature, an unstoppably powerful force acting according to the impersonal laws of physics and nature.
To the secular actuarial, “acts of God” have no wider implication; no deeper meaning – things happen because they happen. Out of every thousand people, x number of them will suffer this catastrophe or that disaster or this manner of death.
It’s a numbers game in which everybody has a ticket and when your number comes up it comes up and it is just as simple as that. Joplin got flattened because Joplin is smack in the center of Tornado Alley. Tulsa didn’t because Tulsa didn’t.
Sigh. Ignorance is bliss. Christians can’t write off an “act of God” so easily. God is not some impersonal force of nature, but He is a loving Father who so loved the world that He gave His only Son – the Father of Whom Paul asks rhetorically:
“He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
Joplin is one of my favorite cities – I have stayed there many times. There are churches on practically every corner. The twister that roared through Joplin on Sunday claimed at least 125 lives – many innocent children and certainly many Christians.
Most of the survivors of the storm lost everything they had. Ironically, insurance companies single out many “acts of God” and exclude them from coverage – for a Christian the irony is double-edged. If God gets the blame, then it means you’re losses aren’t covered.
“Fire, and hail; snow, and vapour; stormy wind fulfilling His Word,” wrote the Psalmist. (148:8)
The Psalmist says in no uncertain terms that the ‘stormy wind’ is a direct fulfillment of God’s Word.
“Peace, be still. And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”
Knowing that “acts of God” really are acts of God should give Christians a measure of comfort, but in reality, the opposite is often true. The secular world shrugs it off as ‘stuff happens’.
But we want to know where God was when the Christian that trusted Him gets sucked out of a sunroof by a tornado and is never seen again?
We’ve discussed the link between the natural catastrophes striking the American homeland and US foreign policy regarding Israel, and on that level, nobody really seems to have much of a problem with the idea.
But Will Norton didn’t have anything to do with US foreign policy and neither do his frantic parents. And while we mostly agree at the national level, our view changes when we zoom in on the human carnage where the “act of God” looks a lot different.
As one member put it in an OL forum post:
“Can anyone please help me understand how God’s punishment works here? Our admin goes against Israel, and then He punishes whatever places in the US that He wants?? My heart aches about all of this, and maybe particularly because I don’t understand the connection between wicked government and, seemingly, capricious punishment from God upon “innocent” towns-folk.”
It’s a fair question. Why do bad things happen to good people? First, we have to distinguish between punishment and chastisement. Punishment is the result of judgment against the guilty.
Chastisement is aimed at correcting wrong behavior. The Bible says that for individuals, chastisement is evidence that God loves us as sons.
“For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” (Hebrews 12:6)
I am one of those that is of the opinion that America is loved of the Father and that American exceptionalism is direct evidence of that fact.
America’s reputation as the “world’s most Christian nation” dates back to its foundation and even the most hardened atheist would have to admit that America is the most blessed nation the world has ever seen.
When Christians step outside of God’s perfect will, He chastises them until they step out of the Chastisement Zone and back into line. America’s foreign policy vis a vis Israel puts it directly in the Chastisement Zone.
America isn’t being judged for sin. It is being chastised back into compliance with God’s will.
But what about the suffering it imposes on the individual Christian? Well, to start with, let’s acknowledge the obvious: God is our Judge, we are not His.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
But what about those Christians that prayed for protection from the storm and we taken by it anyway? “The Lord works in mysterious ways” isn’t a very satisfying answer. There is good reason for that.
It is because the Lord doesn’t work in ‘mysterious’ ways; He works according to His will. He has a purpose for everything that He does. Whether we understand that purpose is irrelevant — HE does.
“So shall My Word be that goeth forth out of My Mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)
To the unbeliever, this life is all there is — so when God takes it, it seems exceedingly cruel. But this is no more ‘all there is’ than the blackness of the womb is to the unborn child. The blackness of the womb is simply all it knows until it is born.
What seems exceedingly cruel from this perspective of existence may well be an act of exceeding mercy when viewed from the perspective of God.
Saved or lost, death isn’t the end. It is either the beginning of unspeakable joy with the Lord in eternity, or the beginning of unspeakable horror and loneliness, separated from the Lord for eternity.
God put each of us here for two reasons. The first is so that we can choose to one day enjoy fellowship with Him in eternity.
The second is to spread the Good News to the lost. Especially in times of trouble, when the lost demand an answer to the question; “Where was God in all this?”
The tornado that swept much of Joplin away is a reminder that our lives on earth are like a wisp of smoke – here, and then, gone, just like that.
We learn a lot about why bad things happen to good people from the story of Joseph. God uses evil to accomplish good. Had Joseph not been sold into slavery in Egypt, then his brothers would have starved to death.
Had his brothers not hated him, the twelve tribes of Israel wouldn’t have existed, there would have been no Jewish people, no Chosen People, no Jewish carpenter named Jesus, and no hope of salvation for mankind.
We live in a world where, in order for there to be a Joseph, there must also be his brothers.