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Question 4: Does God impact the physical world?

February 26, 2013

Many would argue that God has shown control over the physical world throughout the ages – parting the Red Sea, turning water into wine, healing the blind, bringing the great flood. Still others refer to “Acts of God” when describing major catastrophes. Let’s look at these two subjects separately.

It’s not the role of this book to determine if God did particular things two thousand years ago. There are plenty of well-written arguments surrounding miracles identified in various religions. However, if God can’t influence the physical world:

a)                 It sure takes a lot of the fun out of it.
b)                All those prayers before battle may have gone to waste.
c)                 Thanking God for your team’s touchdown or goal may not be as important as some people think.

As discussed in the previous section, there’s pretty solid evidence to suggest  God, given the required integrity, is not impacting all physical events. On this basis, does God, who we haven’t even confirmed as having a physical form, impact on the physical world at all?

I am 100% confident my God is not the source of the poorly labeled “Acts of God.” Whether it’s tsunamis, earthquakes, floods or pestilence, any God who thinks the raw, unselective violence of these events is fair to force upon humans, flora or fauna, doesn’t get my vote.

For those who argue “Acts of God” are ways for God to punish sinners, couldn’t an intelligent God do this with a little less “collateral damage?” I suspect most people who’ve experienced a disaster zone would regard the destruction as relatively indiscriminant – good people are impacted just as much as “bad.” Any God who thinks untargeted punishment of all for the sins of a few is good management, doesn’t understand basic psychology. Similarly, anyone who sees all of the victims of natural disasters, from unborn children to the frail and elderly, as “deserving” of the punishment inflicted upon them, simply doesn’t see the world the way I do.

Having established that my God is far more prominent in the spiritual plane than the physical, I still think there is a role for God in our physical world. Not surprisingly, this role occurs somewhere in the intersection between the physical and spiritual realms. This crossroad occurs where prayer, faith and commitment are exhibited by intelligent beings.

Clearly, this opens the door for every Tom, Dick and Harry to claim they’re:

a)     Intelligent beings
b)    Praying, faithful or committed (or should be)
c)     Doing God’s work

While the first two items will always be up for discussion, the last one is where the real issue lies – many people claim to be channeling the wishes of God, but I don’t hear God claiming this to the same degree.

A brief wander through history and religious texts shows the following acts claimed to have been performed at God’s will:

1)     Offering one’s son as a human sacrifice[1]
2)     Annihilation of all men, women & children in a conquered city[2]
3)     Forgiveness of sins via the purchase of redemption
4)     Killing of Olympic athletes
5)     Killing of innocent civilians in terrorist acts

These acts are not consistent with my God’s demands or requests of believers. However, they shouldn’t reflect on the validity of the deity these perpetrators claim to represent – the acts reflect the challenge we face differentiating between the wishes of God and the proclamations of potentially flawed humans on God’s behalf.


God can act through people and influence the physical universe. However, it’s our  responsibility to assess claims of acting on God’s behalf are consistent with our understanding of what God would truly aspire to do.

[1] Abraham – Genesis 22:1-24

[2] Joshua 6:21

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