How many times have you heard someone explain a disaster away by attributing it as an ‘Act of God?’ Or a person explain to a grieving relative or friend that the bewildering loss of their loved one is a ‘holy mystery’ that only God can understand? Or maybe the idea that when bad things happen, God is somehow at work behind the scenes, bringing just enough stress into our lives so that He can manoeuvre us into a position to fulfil His purpose.

Now, well-intended as these statements are, each is problematic in their concept and understanding of a loving God. Let’s take them in turn…

A disaster attributed as an ‘Act of God?’ Well, aside from those times when the root cause of a natural disaster might be human (as in the flooding of Bangladesh caused by deforestation), the idea that God causes a volcano to erupt or a landslide to happen, rankles with the very idea of a loving Creator. Either God is loving or he is not. Reason tells us God cannot occupy both positions in the same way as a rock can’t be a snake and vice versa. In future posts, we’ll consider this argument in greater depth.

The idea that a loved one’s death is somehow a ‘holy mystery?’ It seems to me that people who offer this sort of explanation have never thought about the consequence of their words on grieving people – relatives, friends and complete strangers left with the idea that God has the answer but He is keeping it from them.  Answers that might help the bereaved to understand why their child was still born? Or a vivacious teenager diagnosed with motor neurone disease? Or a pregnant mother with a brain tumour? Behind the statement is an attempt to explain away the hardship of life without understanding the consequence of freedom for ourselves and other things in this world. An environment that God does not rigidly control so as to enable all life to flourish. A world that is a little less safe as people are exposed to viruses or make decisions that results in their own or other people’s injury. Likewise, consider gravity which facilitates life-giving water on one day through rain but results in a flood the next day in which human life is lost.  Consequences that are not a mystery but a reality of life in a broken world where God does not control everything that happens.

God brings hardship on people so they will fulfil God’s purpose for their lives? Rather like the statement above, this idea also centres on the notion that God has complete control. So, if you break a toe while walking upstairs, then God must have caused it to happen. Why? Because if God controls everything then He must of let this happen to the person to facilitate a greater good. – like, in going to the hospital, the person meets their future spouse or have the chance to save someone’s life, in which the hardship of the throbbing toe becomes make bearable. Of course a more rational person might posit that when ‘stuff happens’, God has nothing to do with it. Rather, the only lesson to be learnt is a human one in which walking around the house in bare feet has its consequences? Indeed, we might even question if it is fair for us to even consider God responsible for our clumsiness or lack of foot-eye coordination?

Okay, just a taste of some of the things we will be considering in future posts. We hope you like the content and that it may go some way to addressing any tough questions you have.