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Acts of God?

You may remember the movie The Man Who Sued God. It tells the story of Steve Myers (Billy Connolly), whose fishing boat was struck by lightning and destroyed.

The insurance company refuses to pay, citing a clause in the small print excluding “acts of God”.

Of course “acts of God” are not defined in insurance policies, and Mr Myers argues that it is in fact a legal fiction conveniently used by insurers.

Soon, others who feel they have been deprived of legitimate insurance payouts join him in a class action. To point out the injustice, Mr Myers sues God.

How does one sue God?

In the same way that one might sue a corporation; through legitimate representatives – in this case a Jewish Rabbi, two Archbishops and a Moderator.

This leaves the religious leaders with a sizeable dilemma. If they lose the case, they would be held liable for all the so-called “acts of God”, and have to pay out millions of dollars.

On the other hand, they could win the case by denying the existence of God. Either way they lose all credibility.

Whatever our view of the movie, it does raise important issues, including theological ones.

Are natural events, including floods, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis and bush fires, in some sense caused or permitted by God?

Many of us have pondered this age-old conundrum (at least as old as the book of Job in the Bible).

To put it simply, and perhaps simplistically, if God is all-powerful, God can, in some sense, control nature.

On the other hand, if God is all-loving, God would want to prevent bad stuff happening to people. Therefore a loving, all-powerful God would prevent calamities. God did not prevent the calamity, so where was God?

We have perhaps been faced with that issue ourselves during the recent disasters.

Some people tragically lost loved ones. Many lost possessions and livelihoods.

I empathised and inwardly wept with those who had lost so much.

The question, “Where was God?” must have crossed the minds of many in a deeply personal way.

In 1974 I was appointed to a position in Darwin. Cyclone Tracy destroyed the city just before I moved. The suburb where I lived was an eerie ghost town of concrete stumps, all leaning in the same direction. I heard people’s stories.

They spoke of history being divided into BC (Before the Cyclone) and AD (After the Devastation) by that apocalyptic event.

A man who became a colleague and friend had sheltered under his house with his wife and young daughter when a block-work wall collapsed and both his wife and daughter were crushed to death.

I don’t believe I have some divine immunity or special protection. I simply do not know why I was not in Darwin and others were.

On the other hand, I have also had my share of personal sadness, disappointments and agonising dilemmas. These are part of life. They could have wrecked my physical or mental health or stripped me of faith – but they did not.

Somehow in the midst of that, I was grasped by a deep, unshakeable conviction that the God and father of Jesus held me and walked with me.

Life seemed like a dark tunnel, with many other confusing dark tunnels branching off in all directions. In there, the presence of God whom I see in the risen Christ, guided me step by step. Finally I was free to step out into the daylight again and discover a world more wonderful than I had ever previously experienced it.

In the movie The Man Who Sued God, Mr Myers eventually withdraws from the legal proceedings. He argues that “the God of ‘the act of God’ does not exist … If God exists, I don’t think he sits around sinking people’s little boats. I don’t think he causes landslides, or earthquakes, or dreams up ways to make people’s brakes fail.”

He then quotes a line from John Donne: “All things to their destruction draw; only love has no decay”.

Robert Bos is director of Pilgrim Learning Community