Natural disasters remind us that nature, while beautiful, is broken. Some disasters give no warning even with all the science a country can afford to put in place. People often cry out to God in the wake of a hurricane or flood. What does the Bible say about these disasters?
Sermon in Nature
Many Christians watch for signs of chaos coming out of the earth and the sky in order to plan for the return of Christ, forgetting that most people never anticipate the time or the nature of their own death.
Jeff Robinson explains how, in Luke 13, we see Jesus teach a crucial lesson about the “danger of living in a fallen world and also the need to repent. We should soberly and humbly look for opportunities to do the same. God does not owe us tomorrow.”
Jesus harnessed the horror of disaster to preach a warning: repent and be saved. “Jesus’ warning may come off as terse, even slightly harsh, but it is a word of grace: Turn to the Lord while there is still time. The point is simple, but we miss it to our peril” (Ibid.).
The Creator’s Power
He also visibly and tangibly demonstrated his Lordship over nature. As Jesus and the disciples sailed on the Sea of Galilee, a storm arose and threatened to overturn them. Jesus was sleeping, so “they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’”
Jesus responded by asking, “‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” (Matthew 8:25-27).
This was his sea, spoken into being on the third day. Against the phenomena of a storm on the Galilee, mortal men were right to be afraid. Christ, however, was telling the disciples not to fear nature but to redirect their reverence to him, their Lord. Have faith in him. Marvel at him. Honor him. He was able to control the sea because all of nature answers to him.
Bad Things, Good People?
Someone must have asked Jesus if the victims of the fallen tower in Siloam were punished for sin (Luke 13:4). “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-3).
Yet, if the victims were not particularly bad people, maybe even “good” by earthly standards, why did they have to die so horrifically?
This is a question Christians are often asked: Why do good people die? Why do good and kind people die while evil people live on? The better question, Robinson argues, is “why do good things happen to bad people?”
We are all bad people who were subject to God’s wrath, and all of us are invited to believe in Christ for salvation. Not one of us deserves it. Natural disasters sometimes preach a sermon about the brokenness of our world; that our unity with nature was fractured when sin entered the world.
Human beings were supposed to experience the life-giving and awe-inspiring benefits of nature. We will experience this unity again when Christ calls us home if we have believed in him for salvation because he is merciful and loving, not because of who we are.
Is God in Control?
Everyone is given an opportunity to acknowledge and submit to the King’s authority, but eventually, it will be too late. “God does not owe us tomorrow” (Ibid.).
Dr. Erwin Lutzer writes, “Intuitively, people know God is in charge. When tragedy strikes, people call out to Him. We know that when something is outside of our control, we need to call upon a higher power for help.”
Disasters are warnings, and unbelievers often turn to God for the first time when they face a tornado or an earthquake. We are tempted to say that God must not be in control of a disaster for fear that unbelievers will think the Lord is evil. If he can quell a storm and chooses not to, how do we convince people of God’s goodness?
The God of heaven who created all things does not answer to us. He does not need defending. He said, “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth [...]. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth” (Zephaniah 1:2-3).
The Lord is in control, both when there is a tragedy and when there is beauty. If he cannot subdue nature, God is not infinite, and therefore he is no match for Satan. “To believe that God is finite might get Him off the hook for natural disasters, but it also puts end-time victories in jeopardy. The Bible does not describe a weak God, however. In fact, just the opposite” (Ibid.). The Lord does what he will, there is no higher authority.
Could the God who loves us also be the one to destroy us? How do we reconcile the mercy of God in Christ with the Old Testament Lord who flooded the earth? Who would follow a God like that?
Yet, who would follow a God who acted according to our imperfect direction, our selfish demands? Who would follow a God who is not in complete control? Our Father sees 100% of the picture at all times and is not afraid to make us unhappy because his plans are not about us — they are about his glory.
We get merely a fraction of a glimpse. God is the Creator; we are the creatures. He has a long-term agenda — if natural disasters serve his purposes in ways beyond our comprehension, we need only look to the cross in order to know that he has conquered death and destruction.
We can trust God to bring light from darkness in his time. “My ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Changing Our Focus
Natural disasters challenge the Christian belief that God is good because we are fixated on ourselves; on being satisfied with God’s answers, as though he answers tous. The enormous loss of life resulting from a pandemic, or a tornado is terrible, tragic.
Our grief and even our anger are human, but no one grieves more than the Lord himself. Christ was moved by the afflictions others suffered, even wept over their pain.
The Devil, on the other hand, delights to cause destruction, which is easily seen in the chaotic life of the demon-possessed man described as “homeless and naked, living in a cemetery, shrieking, breaking chains and shackles, completely alone, and without hope.
This is a snapshot of Satan’s ultimate goal for living things.” But God alone sets the limits of Satan’s power. God “rules through intermediate causes and at times by direct intervention, but either way, He is in charge” (Ibid.).
God has said, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). Natural disaster or natural beauty — it all declares the omnipotence of God.
We cannot say, “Look at God’s wondrous creation!” or thank him for each glorious sunrise, and then behave as though he has no authority over a drought.
Acknowledging his authority is one thing, but when we try to hold God accountable for disaster, this implies that God did something wrong, which is obviously problematic because God never does anything wrong.
Even asking if God is responsible for natural disasters implies accountability, “and God is accountable to no one” (Ibid.).
Typically, we focus on the people who suffer as a result of natural disasters, and empathy is what God wants from us. We should hurt for the sake of other people and also act — send money, move rubble, pray.
But it is not right to behave as though God has betrayed us personally by allowing tragedy to strike, as though this threatens our witness to a watching world. His power and his glory are never under threat.
A natural calamity permitted Paul and Silas to escape from prison as we see in Acts 16. “Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened” (Acts 16:26).
The disciples could have fled, and no one would have blamed them. But Paul and Silas put their personal desires aside and sought a higher purpose. Seeing that the jailor was about to commit suicide because the prisoners were going free, the disciples stayed where they were and, as a result, the jailor knew they were different. “He brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’” (v.30).
Trust the Bigger Plan
We learn much about God and our walk with him in the aftermath of a natural disaster. We are often reminded of his fearsome power, our mortality, and finite abilities; are awakened to the plight of others, and are humbled to serve our great and loving God by serving others.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.