– Compiled by Jackie Georgiou
The number of natural disasters striking the earth today is unprecedented; monthly we hear of an earthquake or hurricane ripping through entire islands and countrysides. The devastation that follows is usually so systemic, that is takes years, if not decades, for people and countries to recover. And yet as each new disaster hits, the same age-old question emerges (asked by believers and non-believers alike): “Why would God allow such a catastrophe?”
For some Christians, the irrefutable answer is that God is Sovereign and can do what He pleases, and we can rest in the knowledge that it is ultimately part of His great plan for bringing mankind to a place of reckoning and for those who accept it, redemption.
Is God in control of the weather?
For other believers though, the notion that God would either actively cause such tragedy, or that reactively, He would allow it, is incongruous with the belief that He is a good God who came “to give us life abundant” (John 10:10). Rather, for those who view God this way, they would say that because the world is fallen and cursed, that natural disasters are in fact just that – either caused by the effects of nature at war with itself, or by the devil who, as “the prince of this world” has authority to unleash evil and destruction (1 John 5:19) as part of his purposes “to steal, kill and destroy.” (John 10:10).
For others, though God may allow some natural disasters, and even cause them, He is not specifically involved in each one. They base this on the notion that Jesus (as God incarnate on earth) demonstrated a love for people that supersedes the immediate call for judgement (through natural disasters or other means). One respected theologian noted in response to the Japanese Tsunami of 2011, that, “the Jesus revealed in the Bible healed, restored, and raised to life. Indeed He did warn and admonish, but never with destruction and death. He rebuked the disciples who wanted to call down fire from Heaven on His detractors (Luke 9:54). When one of His followers cut off the High Priest’s servant’s ear, Jesus admonished the disciple and healed the man’s ear. Throughout Scripture we see that God always warns before He destroys or judges a nation. If there was no distinct warning from God, then I do not believe the Japanese tsunami was an act of punishment or judgement.”
For a prominent Christian pastor, it is critical to realise that the devil has power in this world (though admittedly it is power granted to him for an allotted time by God.) This pastor explains, “The Old Testament story of Job is a classic example of how God sometimes allows satan to bring calamities. Job lost his cattle, crops, and family to vicious attacks, a killer hurricane, and firestorm. Job’s friends said these disasters came from God, but a careful reading of reveals that it was satan who brought these evils. (Job 1:1-12).”
For another theologian (I withhold names because often as Christians we polarise our responses to difficult theological questions and lose the point of the message when we know of the messenger), God is most certainly in control of the weather and can work His purposes for good, in the midst of hopeless destruction.
Acknowledging the laws of nature
In a response to the recent typhoon that ravaged the Philippines, he had this answer for the journalists questioning God’s role: “Tragedies cause many people to question God’s goodness. It is distressing that natural disasters are often termed “acts of God” while no “credit” is given to God for years, decades, or even centuries of peaceful weather. God created the whole universe and the laws of nature (Gen 1:1).
Most natural disasters are a result of these laws at work. Hurricanes, typhoons, and tornados are the results of divergent weather patterns colliding. Earthquakes are the result of the earth’s plate structure shifting. A tsunami is caused by an underwater earthquake.
The consequences of the Fall
The Bible proclaims that Jesus Christ holds all of nature together (Col 1:16-17). Could God prevent natural disasters? Absolutely! Does God sometimes influence the weather? Yes, as we see in Deuteronomy 11:17 and James 5:17. Numbers 16:30-34 shows us that God sometimes causes natural disasters as a judgement against sin. The book of Revelation describes many events which could definitely be described as natural disasters (Rev 6, 8, and 16). Is every natural disaster a punishment from God? Absolutely not.
In much the same way that God allows evil people to commit evil acts, God allows the earth to reflect the consequences sin has had on creation. Romans 8:19-21 tells us, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
The Fall of humanity into sin affected everything, including the world we inhabit. Everything in creation is subject to “frustration” and “decay.” Sin is the ultimate cause of natural disasters just as it is the cause of death, disease, and suffering.
Why would God allow this?
We can understand why natural disasters occur. What we do not understand is why God allows them to occur. Why did God allow the tsunami to kill over 225 000 people in Asia?
Why did God allow Hurricane Katrina to destroy the homes of thousands of people? For one thing, such events shake our confidence in this life and force us to think about eternity.
Saving the lost
Churches are usually filled after disasters as people realise how tenuous their lives really are and how life can be taken away in an instant. What we do know is this: God is good!
Many amazing miracles occurred during the course of natural disasters that prevented even greater loss of life. Natural disasters cause millions of people to re-evaluate their priorities in life. Christian ministries have the opportunity to help, minister, counsel, pray, and lead people to saving faith in Christ!
Resting in His love
One of the greatest challenges we have as Christians is to somehow continue to believe God and to trust Him in the midst of horrendous devastation. When you see children being separated from their fathers and mothers, when you see hundreds of people dead, it is very natural to ask, “Where is God?”
We can wrestle with these questions till Christ returns, and we can attempt to answer the critics of Christ in all sincerity, but ultimately, the ways of God are higher than the ways of man; His thoughts supersede our reasoning. Ultimately this is what we know: God loves us, He died for us and offers to those who follow Him, a glorious eternity.
JOY! Magazine (January 2014)