If you are among the many who wonder if there is a God, what God might be like and whether God is involved in human affairs, wonder no more. The federal government, in its wisdom, has determined that there is such a being, who does indeed intrude into history. The government has even published a definition of an act of God, in the Federal Register for Oct. 25, on page 61548, which is where I providentially found it.
This definition is part of a new federal regulation (50 CFR Part 258, Subpart C, Paragraph 285.21(a), to be exact), and the gist of it is this: an act of God "means any act, event or circumstance . . . whose effect could not resonably have been prevented, avoided or ameliorated by human care, skill or fore-sight (either before or after the act, event or circumstance) of a type, degree and timeliness which would normally be expected from an ordinarily prudent person in the same situation and under the prevailing circumstances."
This confessional statement, incidentally, is the work of the National Marine Fisheries Service, as part of its administration of the Fisherman's Protective Act.
The service's interest in theology makes sense, since in the fishing industries, acts of God often directly affect both the fishers (as they are now officially called) and their protectors. Yet the logic of this regulation set me to thinking that there ought to be similar definitions elsewhere in the federal code books. After all, the kind of "act, event or circumstance" described could happen to anyone; the author of such acts could stir things up anywhere -- even across state lines. And whenever something of that sort turns up these days, a federal regulator is seldom far behind.
For instance, surely the Federal Communications Commission could determine what should qualify as the word of God. And the Census Bureau can figure out how to find and count the people of God. The spirit of God may present at problem in administrative taxonomy; perhaps it is best left to the Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. A similar turf battle might erupt over definition and regulation of the church of God: on the one hand, Interior's Bureau of Reclamation could lay claim to it, while on the other, the people at Social Security may insist it belongs to them.
Such interagency conflicts are predictable, though, and could surely be worked out when the public interest is thus at stake. Indeed, probably the only aspect of divinity that might prove troublesome to federal rule-makers would be the legendary wrath of God. Yet despite its fearsome reputation, this too can doubtless be eventually subsumed into the proper bureaucratic framework -- possibly a joint effort by the National Weather Service and the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency. Once it it thus made manageable, we can all rest easier.
As a former divinity student who has long puzzled over these matters, I for one am looking forward to the closing of these definitional gaps. It should at least make life much easier to understand. To other seekers of the divine, I say, make the Federal Register your Bible. If what your heart desires is not in there today, no doubt it soon will be. I read it religiously.