Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

Act of God is not the storm, but the death that gives life

Published: January 23, 2021

By Father Erik Pohlmeier
Director of Faith Formation

In July 1803, Lord Ellenborogh in London ruled that insurance carriers were not responsible for damage caused by “acts of God.” While this phrase was meant to describe a legal matter, it seems to have had a theological consequence. Words have great power in our lives and there is no doubt that such a phrase reflects a common idea about God. If it happened, God must have caused it.

This problem of suffering reflects what is called God’s permissive will. God allows evil that causes suffering. This is the reality of a broken world where harm comes to us from other people or even from nature.

This idea is mistaken, however, and important for growing in faith. The basic path of the spiritual life is to conform my will with God’s will. But, if I consider everything bad that happens was caused by God, I’m likely to hesitate. It is difficult to trust a God who does all the bad things that happen to me.

The truth is that God can never will any evil. Evil is always a rejection of God and goes against the will of God for the salvation of every soul. Because of our freedom, God’s will is sometimes rejected and this has consequences and collateral damage. Harm does come to us that was never God’s will. Freedom means that I can suffer in ways God never intended because of the choices of others.

This gets complicated when we also consider that God is all powerful and can change any scenario that causes me harm. Many people have rejected faith because of the idea of an all-good and all-powerful God who lets bad things happen. How can this be?

The answer lies in the power of human freedom. Real love demands freedom because love must be freely chosen. Love cannot be forced and still be love. God’s will can only be for love, but if God forces us, love ceases. God’s will must allow for the rejection of love, for evil, even though God’s will seeks only love.

This problem of suffering reflects what is called God’s permissive will. God allows evil that causes suffering. This is the reality of a broken world where harm comes to us from other people or even from nature.

God permits evil to cause harm because of freedom and a broken world. But God does not stand idly by as we suffer. God has chosen to transform suffering. When God took on human form in the manger, God embraced what it means to live in a world affected by sin and brokenness. God suffered in human form to its fullest extent. Death was the consequence of evil taken hold in this world.

But Jesus in the tomb was more powerful than death. God conquered death by rising. God took away the power of death by making it the passage to eternal life. The consequences of evil and sin can be transformed. Suffering can be redemptive. God’s will for love and life responds to our suffering by offering salvation.

The act of God is not the storm that causes damage, but rather the death that gives life. God’s will allows suffering because we live in a broken world, but we are made for more. If we can live in trust, we can experience the truth of God’s will. Our prayer can be answered, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”