What is an Act of God?

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Providence

“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22)

“Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD of hosts is his name:” (Jeremiah 31:35)

And Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me.” … But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armour and the breastplate. (1 Kings 22:28, 34)

“Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. But he does not so intend, and his heart does not so think; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few;” (Isaiah 10:6–7)

Old insurance policies used to mention “Acts of God”, by which they meant unusual and unforeseen events such as earthquakes, lightning strikes or volcano eruptions. The sorts of things which make the pages of newspapers, and draw a crowd. The problem with this language, though, is it relegates God to the realm of the spectacular. It assumes that God can only act in ways which overwhelm and draw attention.

The most common acts of God, however, are those which we often fail to notice. The passing of the seasons, and the never-failing sunrise and sunset. Oh, you might say, these are natural events. True, but who set them in motion? Who upholds the created order?

There are also those events in which human activity brings about God’s purposes. Take the above passage from 1 Kings, for example. Micaiah the prophet had prophesied that the king would not return from the battle field. “If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me” he claimed. We read on a few verses, and king Ahab is on the battle field. There then follows a seemingly random turn of events: “a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armour and the breastplate”. Fluke! You might cry. Yes, but also the will of God. He might bring things about through secondary causes, but this is still an act of God.

We might see the same principle at work in the quote from Isaiah. Here the Assyrian king is being spoken of, one who does not even recognise the God of the Israelites. This pagan king will be used to punish Israel, “but he does not so intend, and his heart does not so think”. He might not think he is furthering the purposes of God, yet his actions are both prophesied and used by God. God causes the punishment (he is the primary cause), but the king of Assyria is the instrument which is used. The secondary cause.

All of this goes to show that we should widen our understanding what is an Act of God. Think not like an insurer! See God active in all that is around you.

Who Killed Jesus?

“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:23–24) - In these couple of verses, then, we see something of the way in which God brings his will into being. He determines something will come to pass, and humans bring it about. They are acting in accordance with their will, but God’s will is deeper. They may even seek to defy God, but that might simply be a means to an end.

The Means to an End

“And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretence of laying out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”” (Acts 27:30–31) - “He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.” (Acts 27:43–44) - To have a belief in a God who is sovereign over all should not imply we simply have to sit back and do nothing. Yes God decrees the end of things, but he also decrees the means by which this end will come about. Yes, we are secure in God’s hands but we also have to follow the commands he gives.

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