Reflections from the Couch 7 – “Act of God”
My son has just started a graduate position at a law firm that does a lot of local government work. He recently was asked to do some research looking at the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on contracts, and particularly when the contract has not been fulfilled. Apparently, in the absence of any specific rules, parties may instead seek to rely on a more generalised “Act of God” provision to protect themselves from any potential liability
I won’t go into the details of the legal argument, but it did start me thinking about the term “Act of God”.
“Act of God”, I wonder what people think when they hear that term. That God is sitting somewhere in the sky, away from the Hubble telescope and Voyager, smiting us when we do bad things, and rewarding us when we do something good. Or worse rewarding those that think or believe a certain way and punishing those that don’t.
Historically, these are ideas about God we could find in the bible if we looked, in the Book of Proverbs in particular. Funnily enough, another book in the Old Testament contradicted this way of thinking. In the Book of Job, Job ends up on the ash heap, having lost family, income, basically his life, even though he is a fine upstanding and faithful individual.
And of course, in the New Testament, Jesus was incredibly inclusive, and was heard saying, the rain falls on the just and the unjust. It’s what we do with it that matters (that’s me!)
So, it’s curious that the term Act of God is still around and still used. I know that when used in a contract it means things that are out of our control, like earthquakes and storms, flooding or drought, or in this case a pandemic, but really, do we have to blame God for them, even if it’s not literal.
The problem is, these days there are still plenty of people who see that bad things will happen to people because they are bad, and so the earthquake or pandemic is an infliction brought on us by God. Maybe because we have not been faithful enough, gone to church enough, haven’t followed the rules enough or been too self-indulgent, mean, or power hungry. Basically, been too human!
We don’t need an external deity to bring about destruction on ourselves by the way we live sometimes, either individually or as a community. Sometimes we do a good enough job on our own. Yet when things happen to us, terrible things, often it’s out of our control.
Those of us who suffer, suffer from illness, or from an accident, or from the effects of natural disasters are not reaping the vengeance of an angry God. They are dealing with the thing’s life has thrown at them, sometimes with an incredible amount of stoicism and inner fortitude. This is particularly the case when children are involved. People don’t deserve for their baby to be born with a disability or die from a condition because they have somehow upset God.
I remember going to a church, where a young lad was up the front, being prayed for so that he could throw the wheelchair he had been in for many years, away. Of course, you can pray all you like and that is a difficult miracle to attain, since he had a genetic condition from birth! What was horrendous was that the onus was placed on the lad, that he must not have had enough faith or that his life in other ways must have displeased God. Talk about digging a further whole for him to slide into! I know he left the church, and felt abandoned by the God he thought he believed in.
So where does that leave us.
The God that I trust is with me through thick and thin, when times and good and times are bad, nudging me toward the light of compassion and love and wholeness. And when I can’t find it, others bring that light to me. I do not trust in a God that lives elsewhere and operates like a policeman but rather my belief lies in a God that is part of who I am and all of us.
So maybe we should get rid of the term “Act of God” and call these events what they are, tragic and terrifying and occasionally fatal events, part of the muck and misery of life. Sometimes not helped by us, but definitely not brought about by a malicious, vengeful and spiteful God.
Just a thought.