PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Blame Humans, Not God

I​ ​hate​ ​the​ ​phrase​ ​“act​ ​of​ ​God.”

​In​ ​legal​ ​usage​ ​throughout​ ​the​ ​English–speaking​ ​world,​ ​an​ ​act​ ​of​ ​God​ ​is​ ​a​ ​natural​ ​disaster outside​ ​human​ ​control,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​an​ ​earthquake,​ ​hurricane,​ ​flood​ ​or​ ​tsunami,​ ​for​ ​which​ ​no​ ​person can​ ​be​ ​held​ ​responsible.

As​ ​a​ ​pastor,​ ​I​ ​have​ ​always​ ​found​ ​it​ ​interesting​ ​that​ ​the​ ​only​ ​time​ ​God​ ​ever​ ​makes​ ​it​ ​into​ ​the parlance​ ​of​ ​the​ ​secular​ ​world​ ​is​ ​when​ ​a​ ​catastrophe​ ​occurs,​ ​and​ ​God​ ​is​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​is​ ​causing bad​ ​things​ ​to​ ​happen.

I​ ​don’t​ ​believe​ ​God​ ​is​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​causes​ ​destruction​ ​and​ ​chaos.​ ​I​ ​believe​ ​in​ ​a​ ​God​ ​who​ ​is​ ​the healer​ ​of​ ​all​ ​ills,​ ​not​ ​the​ ​one​ ​originator​ ​of​ ​​ ​them.

Believing​ ​that​ ​these​ ​kinds​ ​of​ ​natural​ ​disasters​ ​are​ ​“acts​ ​of​ ​God”​ ​paints​ ​a​ ​picture​ ​of​ ​a​ ​God​ ​who​ ​is throwing​ ​darts​ ​at​ ​a​ ​dartboard,​ ​randomly​ ​picking​ ​out​ ​certain​ ​people​ ​and​ ​areas​ ​to​ ​“hit”​ ​with tragedy.

The​ ​God​ ​I​ ​serve​ ​is​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​brought​ ​order​ ​to​ ​the​ ​world​ ​and​ ​who​ ​provides​ ​solid​ ​ground​ ​when the​ ​earth​ ​around​ ​me​ ​shakes,​ ​not​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​sets​ ​the​ ​earth​ ​shaking.​ ​God​ ​put​ ​the​ ​world​ ​on​ ​its course,​ ​and​ ​allows​ ​for​ ​a​ ​natural​ ​order​ ​of​ ​things.

Bad​ ​things​ ​happen​ ​in​ ​the​ ​natural​ ​world.​ But​ ​not​ ​because​ ​God​ ​is​ ​at​ ​the​ ​helm,​ ​pointing​ ​the​ ​wind to​ ​go​ ​here​ ​and​ ​the​ ​waves​ ​to​ ​crest​ ​there.​ ​Those​ ​just​ ​follow​ ​the​ ​laws​ ​of​ ​nature​ ​that​ ​God​ ​set​ ​in motion.

People​ ​have​ ​a​ ​tendency​ ​to​ ​blame​ ​God​ ​for​ ​anything​ ​bad.​ ​​Whenever​ ​there​ ​is​ ​an​ ​illness ​or​ ​a person​ ​faces​ ​a​ ​great​ ​struggle,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​not​ ​uncommon​ ​to​ ​hear​ ​“God​ ​doesn’t​ ​give​ ​you​ ​more​ ​than​ ​you can​ ​handle.”

Why​ ​is​ ​God​ ​the​ ​one​ ​giving​ ​us​ ​the​ ​struggles?​ ​When​ ​I​ ​hear​ ​people​ ​say​ ​that,​ ​​ ​I​ ​can​ ​understand why​ ​more​ ​and​ ​more​ ​people​ ​are​ ​fleeing​ ​religious​ ​faith.​ ​I​ ​mean,​ ​who​ ​wants​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of​ ​a system​ ​where​ ​God​ ​is​ ​handing​ ​you​ ​every​ ​trial​ ​and​ ​challenge.

I​ ​prefer​ ​to​ ​think​ ​that​ ​“God​ ​gives​ ​us​ ​the​ ​strength​ ​to​ ​handle​ ​what​ ​the​ ​world​ ​gives​ ​us.”​ ​We​ ​live​ ​in​ ​a broken​ ​world.​ ​And​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​consequences​ ​of​ ​that​ ​brokenness​ ​is​ ​that​ ​unfair​ ​things​ ​happen.

We​ ​are​ ​subject​ ​both​ ​to​ ​our​ ​free​ ​will — and​ ​consequences​ ​of​ ​our​ ​action — and​ ​the​ ​free​ ​will​ ​of​ ​others. For​ ​example,​ ​​ ​if​ ​I​ ​drink​ ​and​ ​drive​ ​and​ ​something​ ​happens,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​my​ ​action,​ ​my​ ​free​ ​will,​ ​​ ​that cause​ ​it.​ ​​​If​ ​someone​ ​else​ ​drives​ ​drunk​ ​and​ ​hits​ ​a​ ​person — the​ ​person​ ​hit​ ​​ ​has​ ​suffered​ ​because of​ ​the​ ​free​ ​will​ ​of​ ​another​ ​person​ ​who​ ​drank​ ​and​ ​drove.​ ​God​ ​had​ ​nothing​ ​to​ ​do​ ​with​ ​either​ ​action.

God​ ​is​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​gives​ ​a​ ​person​ ​the​ ​strength​ ​to​ ​deal​ ​with​ ​the​ ​pain​ ​of​ ​those​ ​actions,​ ​the consquences​ ​of​ ​free​ ​will.​ ​​And​ ​it​ ​is​ ​God​ ​in​ ​Christ,​ ​through​ ​the​ ​power​ ​of​ ​the​ ​resurrection,​ ​who gives​ ​life,​ ​and​ ​not​ ​death,​ ​the​ ​last​ ​word​ ​in​ ​the​ ​face​ ​of​ ​the​ ​brokenness​ ​of​ ​the​ ​world.

The​ ​victory​ ​of​ ​eternal​ ​life​ ​that​ ​Christ​ ​provides​ ​in​ ​the​ ​face​ ​of​ ​a​ ​world​ ​where​ ​death​ ​is​ ​inevitable​ ​is an​ ​act​ ​of​ ​God.​ ​Freedom​ ​from​ ​eternal​ ​death — that​ ​is​ ​the​ ​ultimate​ ​act​ ​of​ ​God.

But​ ​there​ ​is​ ​another​ ​reason​ ​I​ ​have​ ​come​ ​to​ ​loathe​ ​the​ ​phrase​ ​“act​ ​of​ ​God.”​ ​​ And​ ​that​ ​is​ ​because it​ ​denies​ ​any​ ​human​ ​agency​ ​in​ ​the​ ​most​ ​recent​ ​acts​ ​of​ ​destruction.

In​ ​the​ ​last​ ​three​ ​years,​ ​there​ ​have​ ​been​ ​three​ ​“500​ -year​ ​floods”​ ​in​ ​Houston.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​think​ ​that​ ​this is​ ​happening​ ​because​ ​God​ ​has​ ​it​ ​in​ ​for​ ​Houston.​ ​I​ ​think​ ​there​ ​are​ ​far​ ​more​ ​human​ ​reasons​ ​it​ ​is happening.

In​ ​the​ ​Bible​ ​story​ ​about​ ​Noah,​ ​God​ ​destroys​ ​the​ ​world​ ​in​ ​a​ ​flood,​ ​saving​ ​only​ ​Noah​ ​and​ ​his family,​ ​​​and​ ​a​ ​bunch​ ​of​ ​their​ ​animal​ ​friends​ ​brought​ ​on​ ​board​ ​in​ ​pairs,​ ​because​ ​humans​ ​were​ ​so sinful​ ​and​ ​awful​ ​that​ ​they​ ​lost​ ​favor​ ​with​ ​God.​ The​ ​story​ ​ends​ ​with​ ​God​ ​saying​ ​that​ ​this​ ​will​ ​never happen​ ​again.​ ​Basically,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​a​ ​story​ ​whose​ ​purpose​ ​is​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​us​ ​that​ ​natural​ ​destruction​ ​in​ ​the world​ ​is​ ​NOT​ ​an​ ​act​ ​of​ ​God.

But​ ​that​ ​doesn’t​ ​mean​ ​that​ ​there​ ​aren’t​ ​natural​ ​consequences​ ​for​ ​human​ ​behavior.​ ​​The​ ​recent near​ ​apocalyptic​ ​floods​ ​not​ ​only​ ​in​ ​Houston,​ ​but​ ​in​ ​India​ ​and​ ​Sierra​ ​Leone,​ ​are​ ​the​ ​result​ ​of​ ​the human​ ​sin​ ​of​ ​greed,​ ​that​ ​happens​ ​when​ ​there​ ​aren’t​ ​constraints​ ​on​ ​oil​ ​companies​ ​or​ ​the​ ​use​ ​of fossil​ ​fuels.

Climate​ ​change​ ​is​ ​the​ ​result​ ​of​ ​human​ ​action​ ​and​ ​the​ ​refusal​ ​to​ ​address​ ​it​ ​because​ ​of​ ​the​ ​focus on​ ​the​ ​​profit​ ​margins​ ​of​ ​oil​ ​and​ ​coal​ ​companies​ ​has​ ​led​ ​to​ ​very​ ​real​ ​conseqences.​ ​​The​ ​climate has​ ​changed,​ ​the​ ​waters​ ​in​ ​the​ ​ocean​ ​are​ ​warming,​ ​polar​ ​ice​ ​caps​ ​are​ ​melting​ ​​ ​and​ ​the​ ​weather patterns​ ​are​ ​changing.​ ​This​ ​leads​ ​to​ ​500​-year​ ​floods​ ​becoming​ ​​yearly​ ​events.

These​ ​floods​ ​are​ ​not​ ​“acts​ ​of​ ​God.”​ ​​They​ ​are​ ​the​ ​consequences​ ​of​ ​the​ ​acts​ ​of​ ​humans.​ ​Sadly, however,​ ​the​ ​victims​ ​of​ ​the​ ​floods​ ​are​ ​rarely​ ​the​ ​ones​ ​ones​ ​who​ ​are​ ​reaping​ ​the​ ​benefits​ ​of unchecked​ ​energy​ ​companies.

​Instead,​ ​they​ ​are​ ​the​ ​people​ ​on​ ​the​ ​tiny​ ​Pacific​ ​Island​ ​countries​ ​like​ ​Kiribati​ ​whose​ ​homes​ ​are being​ ​swallowed​ ​up​ ​in​ ​the​ ​ocean;​ ​they​ ​are​ ​the​ ​slum​ ​dwellers​ ​in​ ​Sierra​ ​Leone​ ​who​ ​have​ ​no protection​ ​when​ ​unprecedented​ ​rains​ ​cause​ ​mudslides;​ ​they​ ​are​ ​the​ ​people​ ​of​ ​Houston​ ​who didn’t​ ​have​ ​enough​ ​money​ ​to​ ​flee​ ​the​ ​city​ ​when​ ​the​ ​alarm​ ​went​ ​up ​and​ ​were​ ​caught​ ​when​ ​the torrents​ ​came​ ​down.

So​ ​it​ ​is​ ​incumbant​ ​upon​ ​us​ ​to​ ​not​ ​blame​ ​God​ ​and​ ​instead​ ​focus​ ​our​ ​energy​ ​on​ ​human​ ​acts.​ ​The Trump​ administration’s​ ​rollback​ ​on​ ​controlling​ ​​anything​ ​having​ ​to​ ​do​ ​with​ ​climate​ ​change​ ​​has far​-reaching​ ​effects​ ​for​ ​our​ ​entire​ ​civilization​ ​and​ ​as​ ​a​ ​result​ ​we​ ​have​ ​a​ ​call​ ​to​ ​action.

We​ ​need​ ​to​ ​lift​ ​our​ ​voice​ ​in​ ​more​ ​than​ ​prayers​ ​for​ ​those​ ​who​ ​are​ ​victims​ ​but​ ​also​ ​in​ ​advocacy​ ​for those​ ​who​ ​will​ ​be​ ​the​ ​next​ ​victims​ ​as​ ​we​ ​deal​ ​with​ ​the​ ​effects​ ​of​ ​destruction​ ​that​ ​humans​ ​have​ ​a hand​ ​in​ ​causing.

Floods​ ​are​ ​not​ ​an​ ​“act​ ​of​ ​God.”​ ​But​ ​if​ ​we​ ​speak​ ​up​ ​about​ ​the​ ​need​ ​to​ ​address​ ​climate​ ​change​ ​in real​ ​and​ ​consequential​ ​ways,​ stand​ ​up​ ​for​ ​those​ ​who​ ​are​ ​fighting​ ​for​ ​regulations​ ​to​ ​protect​ ​our land​ ​and​ ​water ​and​ ​change​ ​our​ ​own​ ​patterns​ ​of​ ​behavior​ ​to​ ​help​ ​preserve​ ​this​ ​world,​ ​we​ ​will be​ ​doing​ ​acts​ ​for​ ​God​ ​to​ ​protect​ ​the​ ​world​ ​God​ ​made.

One thought on “PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Blame Humans, Not God”

  • Stanford Edwards September 2, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    Well said!!! A superb examination of the phrase “act of God” that invariably is invoked in referring to disasters such as the current one that has befallen the people in Texas and Louisiana who are experiencing the annihilation of the lives they have built for themselves.

    At the same time, you have “laid all the cards on the table” in explaining some of the circumstances and human decisions that are leading to the increasing frequency and severity of these catastrophic storms. No one can deny the amazing technological advances and material comforts that the oil industry has provided for all of us in today’s world. At the same time, the evidence continues to mount that these wonderful benefits that we all enjoy and now take for granted are being sustained by detrimental effects to the natural environment of our planet.

    This realization was part of the reason for my determined (and still ongoing) opposition to the Dakota Access oil pipeline that was forced through some of Standing Rock’s treaty lands and under the Missouri River/Lake Oahe despite opposition expressed from literally around the world and continual alerts as to the possibility of damaging environmental consequences that could result. As I noted before, the state of North Dakota’s budget is heavily dependent upon oil tax revenue and ND was determined that the project, to benefit the profits of a Texas-based company, be completed whatever the cost so the oil could begin flowing. So the state and its corporate partner clearly demonstrated their power to brutalize and demonize the Water Protectors who gathered here on Standing Rock to oppose the project. However, I believe history will be the judge of the fossil fuels industry and its infrastructure projects.


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