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Sunday
Feb272011

This is Not an Act of God ...


"This is not an act of God, this is the earth, doing what it does.

The act of God is is how we love each other, how we reach out to one another."
--- Peter Beck, Dean of the Christchurch Cathedral.

This statement resonated deeply with me when I first saw it on Friday on Facebook while catching up with the still ongoing stream of devastating news and reaction following the earthquake which struck Christchurch on Tuesday. I have been reflecting on it all weekend.

I immediately posted it on Facebook and Twitter myself. I also emailed it to a couple of pastor friends, saying "it's too good to leave [on Facebook and Twitter] alone" - hoping it might help them prepare for leading their church services today. One, my own pastor, challenged me to capture my thoughts in this blog post.

I think Dean Beck's statement resonates with me because it not only reflects my understanding of God, but it also directly confronts those who loosely use the phrase "Act of God" as a way to blame God, or at least hold God to account, for natural events. As if faith in God is some form of lottery, which some must win, and others must lose. Before science helped us understand what is going on in the world around us it was understandable to ascribe natural events like earthquakes to our understanding of a higher power, but we no longer need to do this. Of all places, we here in New Zealand have a rich and growing understanding of seismic forces and what they can, and do, do. Here in Wellington, where I have lived my entire life, we are well aware we have been due the next 'big one' since before I was born.

Just as importantly, I like Dean Beck's statement because it also contradicts those who make the deeply insensitive, and in my opinion plain wrong, statements that earthquakes like this are God passing judgement. One such website, which I refuse to link to, has already caused much comment, and hurt, online. I am also saddened by an Auckland pastor who it seems wrote to all MPs after last September's first Christchurch earthquake blaming it on all sorts of government decisions in recent decades - no doubt a follow up email will soon again be heading the way of MPs. That just makes me angry.

Religious nutters made similar "it is God's judgement" claims in the wake of the davastation caused to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Time quickly made a mockery of their claims. Bourbon Street (the renowned 'red light' and night club district in New Orleans), which was supposedly what God was passing judgement on, was up and running within days. But the neighbourhoods the poor called home - for whom God's heart is deepest (read all, yes all, of your bible) - were destroyed. Even today, more than five years later, some are still being rebuilt. The stories of people from those neighbourhoods, including many with a deep and active faith, are still heart rending. It was said at the time that if Hurricane Katrina was God's judgement on New Orleans, then he wasn't much of a God, because he missed!

My bible tells me we are made in God's image. I contend that when we do good things - particularly for people who are hurting - we reflect his image into the situation in which we are acting. And, I contend this remains true whether or not those actions are driven by personal faith on the part of the person doing the good things - as that doesn't change that we were all made in God's image. Whether or not it is your understanding, that, I believe, is the sense in which Dean Beck said:

"The act of God is is how we love each other, how we reach out to one another."

For those who are currently rushing to judgement - at a time needing compassion, not judgement - I ask them to reflect on this statement by one of the wisest people to have ever lived:

Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.

Proverbs 12:18 (New Living Translation)

image courtesy www.Stuff.co.nz (whom I hope will forgive the Copyright violation in the circumstances)

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Reader Comments (2)

God Bless, beautifully written

Feb 28, 2011 at 10:33AM | Unregistered CommenterDebra Lilley

Thanks Debra, appreciated.

Mar 4, 2011 at 6:40PM | Registered CommenterGavin Knight

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