Partners in Christian Mission

April/May 2020

April/May 2020

Viruses, Bushfires and Acts of God

By Mission Director, Stephen Baxter

In a world largely dismissive of God as irrelevant, antiquated or dead, it seems strange one of the few things God still gets credit for are natural disasters. Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and viruses can be deemed "acts of God" -- just read your insurance policy.

An "Act of God" is a legal term for events outside human control. Insurance companies use it all the time to identify things they don't cover in their policy. Many who have had to cancel their holidays due to the COVID-19 pandemic has discovered the clause buried in their travel insurance!

All this talk of "acts of God" is not good press for God. It only serves to reinforce a strongly embedded view that God is a wrathful overseer, inflicting unfair retribution on a wayward humanity.

But that's not the God I know and love. It is in stark contrast to the teaching of Jesus. God's unfailing goodwill is available for all. In fact, God "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45).

Around the world today many wonder if the Corona virus is a retributive act of God. In Australia are NSW bushfires, or floods in Queensland, evidence of God's judgment? The answer is a resounding, "No." That is not the God Jesus taught us about.

So what is God up to? There are many unanswered questions. While science helps us understand why natural disasters occur, and Jesus helps us appreciate God is not causing them, we still struggle to understand why God allows them to occur at all.

So why do natural disasters happen?

Answers are not straightforward, but the Bible does give strong hints to a reason. There is a creative dynamic of development inbuilt into the design of the universe. Humanity experiences progress from one generation to the next. God looks for maturity within individuals that assumes we change, repent and develop. Progress and maturity are our human experience, and normal in a life of one following Jesus.

Decay is also at work. Creation groans under the weight of bondage awaiting liberation, transformation and freedom (Romans 8:19-22). Our world is neither fixed or settled but in the ongoing process of becoming. Both

Both Jesus and Paul use the image of childbirth to explain why we endure ferment, unrest, confusion, and disarray. They are a necessary part of history as God brings it to its rightful conclusion.

Jesus said,

"You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come . . . There will be famines and earthquakes in various places" (Matthew 24:6-7).

This insight calls for a broad perspective and long term view of God's plan for the world. What began in the Garden of Eden thousands of years ago, peaked in the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth a couple of thousand years ago, is still in progress. We have to be patient.

If natural disasters are not "acts of God", what are?

If disasters are the consequences of complex earth systems still incomplete and awaiting liberation -- although exacerbated by humanity's imperfect stewardship -- what are the "acts of God"?

Combating natural disasters with acts of God

A few years ago amid the tsunami that hit Japan, I noticed the Salvation Army's slogan. "Combating natural disasters with acts of God." I thought, that pretty much nails it. The "acts of God" are not natural disasters but human actions reflecting the love, patience and compassion of God. This is what Jesus came to teach us, and demonstrated in his life and death. He is the prototype and model of all of what it means to be truly human.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and viruses will continue to happen. We can't stop them. But we can, in the name of Jesus, make a difference to those who suffer.

Let us pray that God will grant us, and our fellow believers across the world, the grace to love and care and act just as Jesus did.

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