“My job is to protect the church against acts of God.”
This is how a sermon I heard years ago began. The preacher worked for Ecclesiastical Insurance, Acts of God is insurance jargon for those things we have no control of: earthquake, volcano, hurricane, tsunami, flood. That sort of thing.
So how do Christians deal with these acts of God? What kind of God would who has power over the elements would let people die in this way? It makes God sound cruel and uncaring. The sort of God who is like that is parodied in the XTC song Dear God …
The song is strong enough. The comments on the You Tube page below are even more enlightening. MyEyesWithin says:
I will not believe in a selfish, misogynist, child abusing, slavery approving, rape approving, racist, homophobic, mass murderer, baby killing, lazy ass piece of shit who does not exists. WHAT NOW BITCHES!!!!
Neither will I. I live on a planet that supports life because of the way it is. If we did not have a molten core we would not have earthquakes and volcanoes, but we wouldn’t have life on the planet. It’s the same with the atmosphere the very conditions that bring the seasons and rain bearing winds can also produce hurricanes and tornadoes. If planet Earth could be changed so that there are no natural disasters then we all die. The ideal world where people do not die due to the weather does not exist. It is not the real world.
The Bible was written into the real world. A world that has floods, where there are famines because the rains have failed, where the crops grow and locusts eat it all – a world in which people suffer. It is all there, and God may in the stories save a few for a purpose, but most of the people have to suffer because of the weather, even those who follow God. Life was cheap back then. It’s real world.
To an extent philosophy is to blame. Words like the XTC song come from a culture where life, for the most part, is no longer cheap. A world of comfort, central heating and air conditioning. A world where most of your life is not taken up with surviving and you have time to be philosophical. But that is just a small part of the world, most of the world is not like that. In most of the world life is just as cheap as it was when the Bible was written. In this world if the harvests fail you will see members of your family die.
In one of these parts of the world the proportion of Christians in the population is growing, and in the other part it is declining. If you take the XTC song at face value you would think that those who are in the place with the most suffering will be the ones who turn from God. The reality is the opposite way round. Those who experience suffering first hand may turn from God, but they are outnumbered by those who turn to God. In the other world, where suffering to that degree is delivered through the TV screen; that is the place where church numbers decline.
The calling of the people og God is the interesting bit. Most of the Bible is not about philosophy, it is about story. The story of a people called to follow God. The people freed from slavery in Egypt were called to show what it means to be God’s people to the nations around them. (Though it is a mistake to read the modern idea of Nation State into these stories, things were far more tribal then.) They were to show whay it meant to be the nation of God and call others to him.
The call to Christians is the same. We are called to show what it means to live in God’s kingdom. So when disaster strikes we are to go and help those made homeless or stateless. To bring food and shelter to the hungry, medicines to the sick.
And as the old 1960s chorus put it, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
People will be drawn to God when they see the people of God acting like the people of God.