by David Sisler

The photographs were startling. Muddy water was everywhere. Firemen carried citizens to safety. Trees were down across roads and cars and power lines. Subdivisions were flooded. Roads were flooded. Schools were flooded.

Hurricane Earl, an act of God, had visited the region.

A young couple I know found two trees down on their property. They were their neighbor's trees, one across their fence, and the other on their roof. They called the insurance company and were told that if the trees were not rotten, it was an act of God and they would not pay for any damages. Then they discovered the trees were rotten and were told since they had not previously contacted their neighbor about them, it was not an act of God, but there was still no liability.

In 1982, Michigan passed "The Environmental Response Act" to: "to provide for appropriate response activity to eliminate the environmental contamination caused by the presence of hazardous substances at sites within the state."

But according to Section 3, paragraph (a), sub paragraph (I): "A person shall not be liable ... if that person establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that the release or threat of release was caused ... by an act of God."

In Seattle, WA, Bryan Zetlen's house in North Beach Park teetered on the edge of a steep, overgrown ravine. Then on New Year's Day, 1997, the slope gave away and Zetlen's house and that of his next-door neighbor, slid towards disaster. An engineering firm hired to investigate said the city was not at fault. It was an act of God. A dozen homeowners face expenditures of up to $1 million each to reinforce the ground behind their houses. They have no insurance coverage.

According to a contract with Quebec Film and Video freelance technicians, if a worker misses a day on the job due to an act of God, he may be replaced temporarily or permanently.

ZigX Consulting, a small computer manufacturing company, does not warranty items damaged by power surges, floods, or any other act of God.

In the face of the above, and a multitude of additional examples, Senco Fastening Systems, of Cincinnati, OH, makers of nail guns, brad nailers, power staplers, and other construction tools, sees things differently. If you previously had sent in the warranty card, and if you can prove ownership of the tool, your Senco tool will be replaced, even if it was destroyed by an act of God.

An act of God (as defined by the Michigan legislature) is: "an unanticipated grave natural disaster or other natural phenomenon of an exceptional, inevitable, and irresistible character, the effects of which could not have been prevented or avoided by the exercise of due care or foresight".

Here is some more legalese: "If negligence is alleged in a tort action, proof that an act of God is the direct or proximate cause of the injury or damage, may relieve the defendant of responsibility or may limit liability to the portion of harm caused by negligence."

Translation: An act of God is a convenient way to avoid paying insurance claims and limiting tort liability by acknowledging the existence of the Lord God Almighty whose existence you deny the rest of the time. An act of God is a convenient way to place blame on the Lord God Almighty for events which are not of his personal doing, without the accompanying praise for events which he does orchestrate for your life.

Scores of Christian denominations have a different definition of an act of God. One of the best statements comes from the Church of the Nazarene.

The General Assembly, the supreme doctrine-formulating and lawmaking body of the Church of the Nazarene, produces a document called The Manual. It is the authoritative guide and the official statement of the faith and practice of the church. According to The Manual, "Justification is the gracious and judicial act of God by which he grants full pardon of all guilt and complete release from the penalty of sins committed, and acceptance as righteous, to all who believe on Jesus Christ and receive Him as Lord and Savior."

My young friends did not have a personal choice about the trees which fell on their property. They did have a personal choice about Jesus Christ. And so do you. Besides, as Jesus said, "The thief comes to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly."

It is an act of God waiting to happen inside you.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 9/12/98

Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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