Acts of God

Dear Friends:

Change can be very hard for me, I confess. It often costs too much in terms of people and things that are dear to me.

I am a calculator of risks by nature and by profession. Change for the sake of change does not appeal to me, but fear of the unknown is also abhorrent to me. My inclination when faced with a new prospect is to ask, “What is the worst that could happen?” and go on from there to plan and to implement.

This inclination to manage risk no doubt led me to a career in the law. The ordering of responsibility and obligation in a business transaction appeals to me. “The party of the first part will do this and that and the party of the second part will pay this much when that happens and if it doesn’t work our the matter will be resolved by the process set forth herein.” A place for everything and everything in its place, neatly signed or initialed, of course. A good contract keeps the peace.

The hard fact is that any effort to manage risk and change, how ever well informed, can be derailed by human error. It is possible to plan, train and check for that to reasonable limits. But there are vagaries of accident, illness, storm, flood, rebellion, crime, war, earthquake, tsunami and volcanic eruption that yield to no human device or strategy.

A good lawyer can’t control everything and, oh, does this ever tick us off! If something unexpected and uncontrollable blows the deal after we make it lawyers like to blame God. We call such occurrences “acts of God” because we like to think God’s the only one big enough to override and “wash out” our best laid plans. We reduce uncontrollable change to a “boilerplate” excuse: “The client’s failure to perform its obligations will be excused for wars, riots, insurrections, labor strife, strikes, transportation delays and acts of God.”

Here is a legal definition of an “act of God:”

Any misadventure or casualty is said to be caused by an “act of God” when it happens by the direct, immediate, and exclusive operation of the forces of nature, uncontrolled or uninfluenced by the power of man and without human intervention, and is of such character that it could not have been prevented or escaped by any amount of foresight or prudence, or by any reasonable degree of care or diligence, or by the aid of any appliances which the situation of the party might reasonably require him or her to use. Inevitable accident, or casualty; any accident produced by any physical cause which is irresistible, such as lightning; tempests, perils of the seas, an inundation, or earthquake; and also the sudden illness or death of persons (Black’s Law Dictionary).

So it is with the perspective of an experienced business attorney that I read these words from the opening of the Book of Joshua. “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant saying, “my servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites” (Josh. 1:1-2).

It is hard to imagine a bigger change than this one for the people in that time and place. For eighty years, Moses led the Israelites, communicating the will and way of God. They had developed a rhythm–manna to eat six days of the week and more manna for the seventh; cloud by day and fire by night; personal and public hygiene, worship, water from the rock–even the miracles became routine. Now, Moses was dead in fact, but Joshua had to be told that it was true and it was time to move on.

Who was Moses to them? The name means “to draw out.” He pointed out to the Israelites that they were in bondage, far from God’s purpose for them. He told them what they could do to be free. He helped them, confronting their enemy Pharaoh, risking his life for them in that initiative. He had a direct connection with God and conversed with him as a friend.

More than once, Moses saved the Israelites from death. He told them how to live as free men and women. He was crotchety and angry with their stubbornness and whining, but he stuck with them through their most stupidly fearful moments.

Moses was the only leader that a whole generation had known. He had failings (don’t we all? ), but they were the failings of passion, of a heart in the right place even when his actions didn’t show it. He promised them better things–a better place to live, prosperity, health and peace–and now he was dead and his assistant got the word to move on. That’s real change!

Businesses are often valued on the basis of their leadership. What was Jack Welch to General Electric, Thomas Watson to IBM,  Lee Iacocca to Chrysler, Henry Ford to Ford Motors, John D. Rockefeller to Standard Oil? What is Steven Jobs to Apple and Bill Gates to Microsoft?

Nations have been identified throughout history for particular defining leadership like France with Napoleon, Britain with Churchill, Germany with Bismark, China with Mao, the United States with Washington and Lincoln. What was Israel without Moses? This was the challenge for Joshua.

Each one of us faces the same challenge, sooner or later. Who is your Moses? Who helped you out of the pit of bondage, took your side, and shook you out of your slumber?  Who showed you the way to better things and how to get there? Who has meant survival to you and who is going to get you through now that your Moses is dead and gone?

Oh. I see.  You hate change also, notwithstanding all those wonderful books, articles, seminars, tapes, verses, refrigerator magnets and cute calendars urging you on to new and better things. In fact, to be honest, even when our own Moses tries to take us through the discomfort of change we are likely to rebel, resist and try “to kill the messenger.” (See Exodus 16:1-3; 17:1-7; 32:1-35; Numbers 11:1-35; 13:25-14:1-45; 16:1-50; 20:1-13, 22-29).

Human nature is a mash of pride and insecurity that causes you and me to think, “I may have my bad times right here, but I am making it with the help of my Moses, aren’t I? Why do I need to move on if it means trading off the known for the unknown? “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” isn’t it?”

As good as the promised land sounds, there are reports of hostile giants there (Num.13:25-33).There are so many questions and uncontrollable circumstances. We are tempted to play it safe with what we have right here and right now. We are angry with the act of God. We demand of God, “Why did you take our Moses away from us?”

“My servant Moses is dead,” God replies in a matter-of-fact manner. “Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving them” (Josh 1:2).

There are two points in God’s instruction to us that should reorient our priorities. First, God makes reference to,”My servant Moses,”  We thought this was all about us. We trusted the operating instructions that Moses gave us. We thought our lives depended on our perfection in following the formula.

Now we find out who our Moses was really working for. If our Moses was following God’s instruction when he brought us to this place, it follows that the death of our Moses must be part of God’s plan. Our present situation is in God’s plan. Our moving on must be in God’s plan.

Specifically speaking, you and I are not at the mercy of some act of God. You and I are an act of God and that act is no misadventure, no accident, and no excuse. You and I owe our very lives at this moment to God’s sovereign grace.

The second point of interest is  found in God’s instruction to cross the boundary and go where we feared to go before this. God says the place where he is sending us is his gift to us, not a punishment or mere consequence.

Again, specifically speaking, you and I thought that achieving the goal depended on our Moses. You and I now find out that the future does not depend on Moses. Our Moses is gone, but God’s providence continues. He cares no less for you and me. In fact, our dependence on our Moses, however well intentioned and loving, may have distracted us from an intimate, growing relationship with the Lord.

God told Joshua in the next verses. “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses…No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you . . . .  I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh.1:3, 5, 9). We can’t ask for more than this. We are called to proceed with assurance in the leading and the providence of the Lord alone.

There is a passage in the writings of the French theologian Fenelon that puts all of this in perspective:

The best place to be is where God puts you. Any other place is undesirable because you chose it for yourself. Do not think too much about the future. Worrying about things that haven’t happened yet is unhealthy for you. God Himself will help you, day by day. There is no need to store things up for the future. Don’t you believe that God will take care of you?
A life of faith does two things: Faith helps you see God behind everything that He uses. And faith also keeps you in a place where you are not sure what will happen next. To have faith you cannot always want to know what is happening or going to happen. God wants you to trust him alone from minute to minute. The strength He gives you in one minute is not intended to carry you through the next. Let God take care of His business. Just be faithful to what God asks of you. To depend on God from moment to moment–especially when all is dark and uncertain–is a true dying to your old self. This process is so slow and inward that it is often hidden from you as well as others.
When God takes something away from you, you can be sure He knows how to replace it . . . . Eat in peace what God gives you. ‘Tomorrow will take care of itself’ (Matthew 6:34). The One who feeds you today will surely feed you tomorrow (Francois Fenelon, The Seeking Heart [Sargent, GA: The SeedSowers, 1992], p. 85-86).

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in Him” (Ps. 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,


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