In the wake of recent massive flooding in Texas, West Africa, South Asia, and many parts of Europe, the term “acts of God” might be coming to many minds. The term is commonly used in the insurance industry and in news reports about natural disasters. It even appears in governmental policies and procedures. Anything that wreaks destruction through forces of nature, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods, may be characterized as “an act of God.”
Although many may accept the term as simply a convenient means of designating certain types of disasters for the purposes of insurance or legal claims, there’s little question that others see such havoc as quite literally God’s hand at work, punishing His wayward children. For example, in the wake of terrible floods that took place in the Midwestern United States some time ago, a media poll found that 18 percent of Americans believed the destruction was a form of divine retribution, or “God’s judgment on the people of the United States for their sinful ways.” In citing this poll, USA Today (July 23-25, 1993) quoted one of the individuals surveyed, who felt there were parallels between the recent floods and Bible stories. She concluded, “When the people became godless and corrupt, their land and civilization were destroyed.”
A central moral ambiguity immediately arises, however, when one realizes that it isn’t only “sinners” who would suffer under the indiscriminate “judgment” of a flood or hurricane. Innocent women, men, and the youngest of children would be subjected to the same sweeping rod of punishment, while some evildoers might be untouched and even find ways of profiting from the misery of others. And if such disasters were indeed “acts of God,” any prayer for protection or restoration would be pointless, for God’s supposed will in the matter would clearly have already been determined.
Many thoughtful religious people naturally rebel against the notion of such an unthinking, uncaring, merciless deity. And, in fact, they often redouble their efforts in prayer and in additional work of helping their neighbors during times of trial. Floods are often followed by many unselfish, courageous deeds. Compassion, kindness, true brotherly love, heroism, and prayer have brought hope and healing as well as sandbags, food, and hammers and nails to raise new homes.
Through the teachings and example of Christ Jesus, it is surely possible to reach a conclusion about acts of God. Jesus’ ministry was marked by the healing of inveterate diseases and by saving men and women from harm and sin. A dramatic example that defeats the supposition that destructive forces of nature are some sort of divine activity is found in the New Testament account in which Jesus rebuked a life-threatening storm at sea (see Mark 4:36-41). His command “Peace, be still” demonstrated the authority and dominion God provides to counter any aggressive actions of physical force. The wind suddenly became calm, and the disciples in the boat with Jesus saw that they were safe.
Christian Science explains the foundation in divine law for Jesus’ healing and saving works. It maintains that acts of God, acts of divine Truth, never produce discord. Because God Himself is only and all good, every manifestation of divine power can result only and always in good. God, as infinite Love and divine Spirit, is expressed in life that continuously reflects the work of Love and is entirely spiritual. This is the true nature of man’s life in God’s image and likeness, that life is indestructible and eternal, as divine Love itself is.
The Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy, reveals the reality of what God is and of what God does through the totally harmonious operation of divine law. Speaking of God as Truth it states, “Truth never made error necessary, nor devised a law to perpetuate error” (p. 183).
Then, in a statement that applies to those working so tirelessly to alleviate suffering during natural disasters, it affirms, “The supposed laws which result in weariness and disease are not His laws, for the legitimate and only possible action of Truth is the production of harmony.”
On this basis of the saving operation and divine maintenance of God’s law, we can pray for all across the world who are facing floods and flood damage to realize protection, restoration, and healing in their communities.
Adapted from the Sept. 13, 1993, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.