Are Calamities an Act of God?

IN the weeks after Hurricane Hugo and the San Francisco Bay area earthquake I heard the phrase ``It was an act of God'' used a number of times on television news broadcasts. Each time this phrase was used, it made me feel uneasy. It is true that the words an act of God are commonly used for insurance policies and in civil law when attempting to define responsibility for restitution following physical disasters. But it still just didn't seem right to me to say that God, who is good, is the cause of evils such as hurricanes and earthquakes. There had to be a better answer. I turned to the Bible and found an answer that made sense to me. It's in a story about the prophet Elijah.1 The Bible tells how in a time of great persecution, Elijah learned a valuable lesson about God's true nature: that God is good and not the cause of physical calamities.

The story tells of Elijah's flight from Queen Jezebel, who hated him and had sworn to kill him. The climax of the story takes place at the entrance to a cave high up on a mountain called Horeb, where Elijah had fled for refuge. God tells Elijah, who is hiding in fear, ``Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.'' Then a strong wind tears at the mountain, followed by an earthquake and a fire. The key point of the story for me was that Elijah did not find evidence of God in any of these calamities.

It is only after these calamities have passed that Elijah hears God as ``a still small voice.'' Elijah's spiritual instinct recognizes this message as a revelation from God, telling him of the true nature of Deity. It is Elijah's proof that God's creative idea is peace and harmony, not destruction and death.

After reading this Bible story, I began to think back to the events reported following the hurricane and the earthquake and to think about the ones I did consider to be ``acts of God.'' They started with the comforting compassion given by Charlestonians to their neighbors who had lost homes; the patience and effort put forth by so many volunteers in sheltering, feeding, and clothing the needy after the hurricane; and the determination of those who had lost so much in the wind and flooding not to let it deter them from rebuilding their city.

Then there was the generosity of families in San Francisco, who, when there was no electricity or gas, barbecued food in front of their homes to share with the hungry; the bravery of people who, only minutes after the quake, climbed into the narrow space under the collapsed freeway to help survivors; and finally, the courage and commitment of emergency crews in overcoming tremendous difficulties. These acts became reminders to me of the difference between a wholly good God and disasters.

Calamities and the suffering they bring cannot be the expression of good; how can they be acts of God? The Bible declares, ``God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.''2 Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, makes a similar point when she states, ``God creates neither erring thought, mortal life, mutable truth, nor variable love.''3

These spiritual truths assure us that there is no need for us to blame God for something He would never do. Once we recognize this, we've taken a giant step toward finding God's presence and power near at hand to comfort and to heal.

1See I Kings 19:1-12. 2Genesis 1:31. 3Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 503.

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