What is an Act of God?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The term “act of God” has two different meanings: religious and legal. In the religious sense, an act of God is something which has been created or wrought by God, with a classic example being the tablet inscribed by God with the 10 Commandments. In a legal sense, an act of God is a natural event which could not have been predicted, controlled, or prevented, such as an earthquake which destroys a bridge. Even in secular societies, contracts often include an Act of God clause.

A severe hailstorm may be considered an act of God.
A severe hailstorm may be considered an act of God.

Various world religions have been discussing acts of God for centuries. Many societies historically believed that God or Gods played an intimate role in the lives of ordinary people, and that the activities of the deity were responsible for everything from pregnancy to catastrophic storms. Many cultures also developed beliefs about worshiping high powers to appease their wrath and plea for beneficial acts of God, such as a good harvest.

Even in secular societies, contracts usually include an clause pertaining to Acts of Gods.
Even in secular societies, contracts usually include an clause pertaining to Acts of Gods.

By the 13th century, discussions about acts of God were primarily confined to the Christian religion, with religious texts exploring the concept quite extensively. In the 19th century, the legal sense of the term began to appear, initially in contracts which included a clause addressing “acts of God” as a way of covering all bases in the event that a freak accident or random event occurred.

A wildfire caused by lightning is considered an act of God.
A wildfire caused by lightning is considered an act of God.

Today, the concept of an act of God is included in the legal language of many contracts. Insurance policies, loans, and other legal contracts often include a discussion of whether or not acts of God are covered, and acts of God are also addressed in courtrooms. For example, when the residents of a home sue the owner because of damage inflicted during a natural disaster, the owner may not be deemed liable if he or she can prove that the damage was caused by circumstances which could not have been controlled, such as floodwaters which filled the home.

An earthquake is an act of God.
An earthquake is an act of God.

An act of God may be a wildfire caused by lighting, a flood, an earthquake, a volcanic eruption, or a similar cataclysmic event. In order for something to be deemed an act of God, proof must be provided that nothing could have been done to mitigate or alter it. If a wildfire burns a house down, for example, that might be an act of God, but the owner of the home might also be brought up on negligence charges if he or she failed to comply with fire safety laws.

Floods are generally considered and act of God.
Floods are generally considered and act of God.
Severe thunderstorms are considered and act of God.
Severe thunderstorms are considered and act of God.
Destruction caused by a tornado would be considered and act of God.
Destruction caused by a tornado would be considered and act of God.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Is death an act of god?


@feruze- While I can see why your company would not want to cover acts of God, it seems unfair that a client cover everything. I suppose it seems unfair however you look at it in those situations.

Awhile ago, a few towns over, a storm came and hit a street really badly. A man had 4 cars in his driveway- a tree fell on two, both of which were practically brand new, and another that was just bought to be fixed up. Another car, which doesn't even run, was spared.

Worse still, the tree was from his neighbor's yard- the question of who was responsible for the tree, and whether it was preventable, was a big to do because no one's insurance company knew what they ought to do.


@shell4life- That is a truly disturbing story, but things like that do happen all the time. I never know what to think in those incidences; to me, the term act of God suggests something good, and yet, we have to remember that in virtually all religions, God is capable of many things that are far from positive.


I had a troubled friend who was contemplating suicide. He confided in me about this, and he also told me that he had made up his mind. He suffered from severe depression, and medicine had not helped him.

He had a wife and kids, and he didn’t want them to know about it until afterward. He said he couldn’t bear to see them in pain or sad.

I told him that if he committed suicide, then his family wouldn’t get any insurance money. That disappointed him, because he had to keep on living to support them, and he really wanted a way out.

Well, that night, a severe thunderstorm came through the area, and a tree fell on his house. It missed his wife and kids, but it hit him square in the head, killing him instantly. They got insurance money, because this was an act of God.


When I think of an act of God, I envision a tornado. The winds in the funnel are so intense and focused, and though I can be predicted with some accuracy, you can’t always escape it.

I recently was at work in a hundred-year-old building with no storm shelter when the tornado sirens went off. The sky turned green and black, and I stepped outside and heard an eerie howling sound. It was like nothing I’ve ever heard before, like some terrifying new creature.

I had nowhere to go. If it hit, my coworkers and I would have died. I have never felt so vulnerable in my life.

It went to the other side of town, so we were safe, and I viewed this as an answered prayer and an act of God. A few houses suffered some damage, but no one died or got badly injured. The homeowner’s insurance covered acts of God, so the people with damaged homes got to have their repairs.


@kylee07drg - I agree with you. I have experienced several things in my life that I view as acts of God. Many of them happened right after I lost a loved one.

I took great comfort in the small miracles that I felt had no other explanation than they were sent by God to let me know everything was all right. Some things are just too on point to be termed coincidental, even by skeptics.

So, I think that my friend’s death was an act of God, and the subsequent signs that helped me heal were acts of God as well. I know that I am not alone in this belief.


I view deaths as acts of God. My friend’s husband was only 35 when he died of a heart attack and a stroke at the same time. Everyone was so shocked, but they all agreed that it was God’s time to bring him home.

The eerie thing is that he had just altered his life insurance a couple of weeks prior to his death. He had changed it so that his wife and kids would get money right away instead of having to wait years. If he hadn’t made this change, they would have had a lot of trouble surviving.

So, I believe that God acts in all things and through all things. The urge he felt to change his insurance was an act of God, as was his early death.


I help manage construction projects and all of our contracts have a section on acts of God. When my company agrees to construct something, we don't accept financial responsibility if the project is delayed due to an act of God.

If a problem on our part causes delay in the project, we are responsible for that. But if there is a natural disaster or an unforeseeable accident that causes damage to the construction despite our attempts to avoid it, then it is our client's responsibility to pay for the damages.


I use this phrase sometimes when I'm talking about divine justice. If someone who did bad things and hurt other people faces a bad situation or an accident, I think it's an act of God because I believe that divine justice takes place both in this life and in the hereafter.

There are some people who argue that everything is an act of God because nothing can happen without His will and permission. I do agree with this but in general, that's not how the phrase is used. It's used to talk about things which are out of our control completely and that are inevitable. For example, if someone passes away from an accident, we could say that it was his time to pass away and it could not have been prevented since it was an act of God.


@Sunshine31 - What I don’t understand is why people continue to build homes in areas that have a higher likelihood of having a natural disaster. For example, there have been multimillion dollar homes built in Malibu that were lost to mudslides or brush fires.

While no one can predict that something like this will happen the fact that it has happened before would be enough to keep me away from this area. I wonder if the insurance coverage is limited because of the potential for a natural disaster to occur. I am sure if insurance is available in the area, the insurance premiums are probably very high because of the risk and the value of the real estate surrounding the area.


@Comfyshoes - I heard about that story and it is nice to hear a warm hearted story in the news for a change. I wanted to say that with respect to the legal definition of the acts of God, if a home for example is significantly damaged by a hurricane or some other natural disaster the owner can only be compensated if they own insurance.

Many residents in New Orleans for example, did not have flood insurance when Hurricane Katrina hit and when their homes were flooded and deemed inhabitable most had to walk away because they did not have insurance that covered flooding which is separate from home owner’s insurance.

I live in South Florida and I have a homeowner’s insurance policy along with an additional policy to cover flooding. Most of the damage in a hurricane is due to flooding so it is vital to get although it is not mandatory in most areas.


The other day I was watching the news and I heard a story that really sounded like an act of God. It involved several bystanders that were able to lift a car in order to save a man that was trapped underneath. It was amazing to watch.

Many people believe that this was a sheer miracle or act of God because typical people do not exhibit that type of strength and many feel there was some divine intervention that took place. I love to hear stories like this because it really renews my beliefs that people are generally good and will do what they can to help someone in need.

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