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August 24, 2016, 2:03 PM

Acts of God and Bottled Water from Nacagdoches


  We call them “acts of God.”

  Last night, an earthquake devastated part of Italy.  Two weeks ago, torrential rains flooded vast portions of Louisiana.  For weeks, large parts of California have been consumed in flames, and much of the state suffers from a disastrous drought which has lasted for years.

   For many, these “acts of God” seem to be proof that there is no God and we are vulnerable to the randomly destructive acts of blind nature.

   Some folks try to ascribe divine motives to these catastrophes.  Usually in the form of a divine judgment against some group whom they believe has especially offended God or the gods.  Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, who had previously opined that hurricanes were God’s punishment meted out against gay people, recently had his Baton Rouge home wrecked by the floods.

   It would seem that God’s aim is not very precise. 

   Most people, including most Christians, are not inclined to attribute every natural disaster and the suffering they crate, to a vengeful God.  Jesus himself said that God causes the rain to fall upon the just and the unjust, alike.  Sometimes those rains are a blessing, sometimes they are a burden.

   But, even if you don’t ascribe to theories of weather and geology being driven by divine wrath, you are faced with the question of why a good God would allow such catastrophes?

  Perhaps the mechanics of an earthquake, and a bit of astrophysics, can be instructive.

  Earthquakes are the result of large tectonic plates shifting and grinding against each other, as they  float on a vast ocean of molten rock.  This rock (magma) is constantly flowing in vast tides.    The tides themselves are driven by a constantly spinning core of molten iron at the center of the planet.

   If that molten core were to stop spinning, the friction keeping the deeper parts of the Earth molten would cease, and the interior of the Earth would cool off.  The magma would turn solid and earth quakes would cease!  That would seem a blessing.  However, as they say in late-night infomercials, “But wait!  There’s more!”

   That spinning iron core acts as a colossal electromagnet which generates a kind of force field around our planet.  That force field, deflects enormous amounts of charged particles constantly spewing from the Sun toward Earth.  It’s known as the Solar Wind.

    Without our force field, the Solar Wind would eventually “sand blast” our atmosphere away,  as it did on Mars, which has no molten core.  The Solar Wind would also basically sterilize the surface of our planet, as it appears to have done on Mars.

   So, the very engine that drives earthquakes also makes life on this planet possible!  All things being equal, I’ll take the earthquakes over planetary extinction.

   Life on Earth is sustained by an astonishing balancing act, involving forces both cosmically immense and sub-atomically delicate.  Sometimes, our desires and designs in conformity with those balances, and other times, not.  That the universe is balanced in such a way is cause for awe and wonder.  If the events we experience as disasters are “acts of God” then so is that overwhelming harmony which makes life possible in the first place.  As Einstein put it, “There are only two ways to look at your life.  One is as though there are no miracles.  The other is as thought everything is a miracle.”

   There simply is no blessing that is not accompanied by a burden.  The weather systems which sustain life, also deal out death.  Not out of any malice, but because we run afoul of the titanic power of those systems.

   However, there is good reason to believe we are now impacting the global weather system by spewing billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other contaminants into it.  We definitely thinned the protective ozone layer with chemical we used for air-conditioning and stuff like hair spray.  We sickened vast areas of forestland with acid rain for decades.  These problems have been greatly eased by regulations that caused these pollutants to be significantly reduced.  The ozone and the forests are slowly coming back.

   But, the issue of global climate change still hangs over us.  And there are other ways in which we are damaging our life-sustaining ecosystem.  In a few decades, the amount of waste plastic dumped into our oceans will exceed the weight of all the fish in those oceans!  That is a dangerous and appalling trend.

   If there are mass extinctions of aquatic life as a result of our dreadful abuse of the oceans, if there are devastating storms and droughts because we have contaminated the atmosphere…are those “acts of God?”

   Whether a disaster has a human caused component or not (and they all probably do), there is one more “act of God” that such moments can generate.

   In each of the ongoing disaster making news right now, you can see the presence of brave, compassionate, selfless people who have rushed into the ravaged area, sometimes at great person risk, to come to the aid of the afflicted.  The same God who sets into motion and into balance, forces both wondrous and terrible, is the One who propels people into the places where others have been overrun by the forces which can be so deadly, even as they make life possible.  Their love is part of what holds creation together, and it is a reflection of the mysterious power which brings us into existence.  In fact, it is woven into the very fabric of our existence.

   I would submit that the acts of mercy and generosity which we see evidenced in times of catastrophe are “acts of God.”

   As I watched the floods in Louisiana, I recalled the Great Flood of ’93.  I was serving a church in Moline, IL, at the time, which was one of the first cities affected by the overflowing of the Mississippi.  The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) opened a warehouse for the distribution of relief supplies, within a few days.  I was there for the opening and worked at it several times.  On that first days, shortly after the doors opened, a big semi-trailer truck from Nacagdoches, TX arrived, filled with thousands of bottles of drinking water.

   One of the ironies of big floods is that people run out of drinking water, because contaminated river water overwhelms water purification systems.  So, the bottled water was a godsend.  The driver  said his company had given him permission to bring the water, and that it was a gift from the United Methodist churches of Nacagdoches.

   There was further irony.  That part of Texas was in the grip of a terrible drought.  These people knew full-well what it was like to be without water.  But, they made a point of sharing what they could, so that people they did not know, would not go thristy.  It’s the kind of love which holds the world together.

   And if nature is oblivious and impartial in the way it metes out blessing and disaster.  It is acts of God like a truck full of water from dry Nacagdoches which allow us to endure and triumph.


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