Acts of God

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Hesham A. Hassaballa’s Column

Whenever one signs a purchase contract for a new home, the builder makes sure it inserts a clause that absolves it from responsibility for “Acts of God.” Thus, if the builder states that the closing date is December 15, but is then delayed due to “Acts of God,” it is not responsible. Similarly, new home warranties explicitly exclude any damage caused by “Acts of God.” The same goes with some insurance policies, although, in reality, practically the entire insurance industry exists to protect against damage due to “Acts of God.”

“Acts of God” are perhaps the most frightening phenomenon for human beings, because humans have no power to prevent them. And being powerless is something we humans hate almost more than anything else. Modern Medicine tries everything possible to alter the course of disease, to prevent the devastating effects of disease. This is a noble cause, and I am blessed and privileged to be in that profession. Yet, some times, we physicians do more harm to patients when we try to intervene medically, when we try to stand in the way of “Acts of God.” Trying to find the balance between knowing when to intervene and when not to intervene is a struggle I go through on a daily basis.

This past week, the Midwestern section of the United States has been pummeled with storm after storm, producing dozens of tornadoes that have caused devastating and, in some cases, irreparable damage. In Pierce City, Missouri, tornadoes destroyed buildings that probably can never be rebuilt, essentially destroying the city, in ten seconds. Severe storms had passed through the metropolitan Chicago area on May 10. While the heavy rain and strong winds pounded my house, the civil defense alarm went off. I was terrified for my and my family’s lives as we slept in the basement. Thank God, the storm quickly passed without any incident. Again, that feeling of utter powerlessness was constantly fueling my fear. We humans hate feeling powerless.

And that is exactly the point of Acts of God. They remind us of our utter powerlessness before God. This topic is very difficult for me to reflect upon. I cannot imagine the pain and torment of my fellow Americans in the Midwest who were victims of the latest streak of severe weather. It is a situation I would never want to experience, and I would never wish such an experience on anyone. Nevertheless, we should stop and reflect upon these situations when we see them happen before our eyes.

We live in a time of, in the West at least, unprecedented life expectancy, technological advances, global dominance, and prosperity. We can wage war with precision so as to minimize (supposedly) loss of civilian life. I have seen people “come back” from the brink of death with a relatively small amount of fluids and antibiotics. It almost seems as if modern Medicine has succeeded in cheating Death. Although the recent bout of severe weather has caused significant damage, weather predicting technology has become so advanced that very early warning of severe weather is the norm. No doubt, this early warning has saved countless lives.

All this prosperity and ability can easily lead us to become arrogant and make us think we are in no need for God at all. God told us this much in the Qur’an: “Nay, mankind does transgress all bounds in that he looks upon himself as self-sufficient” (96:6-7). Now, I can’t speak for God and speculate why such “Acts of God” occur. That is not my concern. Yet, I know that they always serve to remind me who really is in charge. On the night of those frightful storms, what kept me from panicking was my constant prayer for God’s protection. It seems that many of us usually remember God in difficult or fearful times. The challenge is to remember God at all times, even when the going is great.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and columnist for Beliefnet.com and Media Monitors Network (MMN)He is author of “Why I Love the Ten Commandments,” published in the book “Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith” (Rodale Press), winner of the prestigious Wilbur Award for Best Religion Book by the Religion Communicators Council.

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