Natural Disasters - Can We Explain Them?
On Sunday December 26th 2004 a magnitude 9 earthquake generated a tsunami that at this point has claimed over 120,000 lives in ten nations, over 80,000 of them in Indonesia. The suffering affects everyone from rich to poor, from famous to fishermen, from businessmen in Thailand to villagers in the Maldives.
For people of faith the question must immediately arise - did God cause this? If so why? Why one person and not another? Why were so many of the dead innocent children? Why were the weak killed more than the strong? Why were the poor punished more than the rich? Why does a supermodel live while her photographer boyfriend was swept out to sea?
Some common answers include:
It was accumulated bad karma of the countries and individuals concerned.
It was punishment for a specific sin of some sort such as a massive violation of an important religious ritual.
It is part of a Creation damaged by the Fall, an amoral random effect of the “sin of Adam”.
It was Fate, it was “in the stars”.
Personal retribution - each individual person who died was killed for his or her own sin in a highly selective and personal way.
There is no moral explanation, God wound up the world like a watch and let it run, this disaster is just a bit of grit in the mechanism.
It was prophesied – as part of the end-time judgments on a wicked humanity and a preparation for the return of Jesus.
It was an evangelistic wake-up call to get them to repent and listen to God and stop chasing money, sex, idols etc.
It was not God but Satan that caused the earthquake and tsunami (or other natural disaster) because Satan loves to steal, kill and destroy.
It was the accumulated result of human folly – no warning systems, building too close to the water, causing climate change etc.
I will show that all ten of these common reasons are quite unsatisfactory and that the Bible offers a far deeper explanation. But first here is some of what Scripture says, which I have arranged under various headings:
God Our Maker Is Fully Responsible
Isaiah 45:5-11 MKJV I am Jehovah, and there is none else, no God besides Me; I clothed you, though you have not known Me; (6) that they may know from the rising of the sun, and to the sunset, that there is none besides Me. I am Jehovah, and there is none else; (7) forming the light and creating darkness; making peace and creating evil (calamity). I Jehovah do all these things. (8) Drop down from above, O heavens, and let the clouds pour down righteousness. Let the earth open, and let salvation bear fruit; and let righteousness spring up together. I Jehovah have created it. (9) Woe to him who fights with the One who formed him, a potsherd among the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to its former, What are you making? Or your work, He has no hands? (10) Woe to him who says to his father, What are you fathering? Or to the woman, What are you laboring over? (11) So says Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, and the One who formed him, Do you ask Me of things to come? Do you give command to Me about My sons, and about the work of My hands?
Amos 3:6 MKJV If a ram's horn is blown in a city, will the people not also tremble? If there is a calamity in a city, has Jehovah not also done it?
People Are Caught Up In Evil Times
Ecclesiastes 9:12 MKJV For man also does not know his time; as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly on them.
They Are Not Worse Than Others
Luke 13:1-5 MKJV And some were present at the same time reporting to Him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. (2) And answering, Jesus said to them, Do you suppose that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things? (3) I tell you, No. But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (4) Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were sinners above all men who lived in Jerusalem? (5) I tell you, No. But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
We Are To Have Compassion
Proverbs 17:5 MKJV Whoever scorns the poor reviles his Maker; he who is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished.
Disasters May Be Associated With A Great Battle Against Evil
Matthew 24:6-9 MKJV And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled, for all these things must occur; but the end is not yet. (7) For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and pestilences and earthquakes in different places. (8) All these are the beginning of sorrows. (9) Then they will deliver you up to be afflicted and will kill you. And you will be hated of all nations for My name's sake.
Exodus 9:13-16 MKJV And Jehovah said to Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say to him, So says Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews, Let My people go, so that they may serve Me. (14) For I am going to send at this time all My plagues upon your heart, and upon your servants, and upon your people, so that you may know that there is none like Me in all the earth. (15) For now I will stretch out My hand, that I may strike you and your people with plagues, and you shall be cut off from the earth. (16) And for this I have made you stand, to make you see My power, to declare My name in all the land.
Joel 2:30-31 MKJV And I will show wonders in the heavens, and in the earth, blood and fire and pillars of smoke. (31) The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of Jehovah.
Rejection of God Brings/Hastens Calamity
Matthew 11:20-24 MKJV Then He began to upbraid the cities in which most of His mighty works were done, because they did not repent. (21) Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the powerful acts which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes! (22) But I say to you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. (23) And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to the heaven, shall be brought down to hell. For if the mighty works which have been done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. (24) But I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.
Proverbs 6:12-15 MKJV A worthless person, a wicked man walks with a crooked mouth, (13) winking with his eyes, speaking with his feet, teaching with his fingers; (14) perversity is in his heart; he is always planning mischief; he causes fighting. (15) Therefore his calamity shall come suddenly; he is quickly broken, and there is no healing.
There Is A Set Time Of Judgment /Calamity Against Nations and Cities
Jeremiah 46:21 MKJV Also her hired ones are in her midst like calves of the stall; for they also have turned back, fleeing together. They did not stand, because the day of their calamity had come on them, the time of their visitation.
Jeremiah 48:16 MKJV The calamity of Moab is near to come, and his affliction hurries fast.
God’s Ultimate Will Is To Renew Creation So That Natural Disasters Cease Forever
2 Peter 3:13 MKJV But according to His promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Revelation 21:4-5 MKJV And God will wipe away all tears from their eyes. And there will be no more death, nor mourning, nor crying out, nor will there be any more pain; for the first things passed away. (5) And He sitting on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And He said to me, Write, for these words are true and faithful.
The Ten Reasons Reviewed:
Lets go back to the ten reasons at the top of this article, six of them can be put to one side immediately:
Scripture never says that natural disasters are the result of lack of piety or the non-performance of a religious ritual.
Scripture makes very clear that God is active and has not retreated from intervention in Creation. This is not just “grit in the watch”. God creates weal and woe.
Scripture also denies astrological control of human affairs and the concept of it being “just Fate” in the stars.
Though Scripture does say that Creation is fallen and in bondage it never attributes specific natural disasters to a random effect of the “sin of Adam”. That would be to take Creation out from God’s direct control and have it entirely controlled by random glitches.
Satan may cause a storm on a lake or a whirlwind but he is never credited with a major natural disaster.
Human folly may be a contributory factor but it is not a primary factor.
The other four reasons are more complex: karma, individual retribution, prophecy, and the evangelistic wake-up call.
The individual retribution concept simply does not fit the tsunami with its terrible damage among women, children, the weak and the poor.
Karma is very impersonal, its like a tipping point was reached and the wrath of God reached a certain number and was poured out automatically, by some computer in Heaven. This is not a biblical concept.
Neither is the evangelistic wake-up call supported by Scripture, Jesus does say we are to look on such disasters and repent but that is not the reason for the disaster, just a wise response to it.
The “it is the end-times” argument has been brought out for every major disaster for two thousand years. It is now bankrupt. Besides earthquakes are just preliminary signs, birth pangs, nothing more, of them Jesus said “but the end is not yet”. If you read Matthew 24 accurately Jesus is saying that wars, earthquakes etc are NOT signs of the end but just part of humanity’s journey along the way.
Thus all ten common reasons are not a proper biblical response!
The Right Reasons:
God creates peace and prosperity and God also creates calamity and disaster. God is the potter, we are the clay, He can create and us and He can destroy us. We are to humbly trust Him. We do not know our times. Our times are in his hand.
Something has gone wrong with this world at a very deep level due so that we live a time called the “present evil age” (Galatians 1:4), which is tormented by sin at every level. It is now a not a good world, and we need to be redeemed out of it (Acts 2:40). It is not fair and it is not righteous, we await a world in which righteousness dwells but it is not this one.
In this age God is breaking the power of sin, firstly through the gospel, and secondly through direct action. We are to join him in this by being righteous, compassionate and loving to those caught up in the tsunami disaster. We are to have compassion on those caught up in evil times.
All have sinned, every one of us (Romans 3:23), and sin accumulates, and iniquity brings judgment, even on whole cities and nations, such judgment may take hundreds of years to arrive but when it does it catches everyone up in it, like a dragnet. Those caught up in the disaster are no worse than anyone else. During times of great spiritual conflict plagues and disasters will be more common. Repentance can prevent disaster. Lack of repentance hastens disaster.
This world is passing away and will be replaced by one in which righteousness dwells and in which there will be no more sickness or crying or pain. God will renew Creation and natural disasters will cease. Natural disasters are part of the “present evil age” and not a permanent part of God’s eternal will and nature.
The Christian Response
The Christian response is four-fold – humility, faith and trust in the sovereign will of God, compassion and practical help for those caught up in the disaster, an offering of repentance from sin and forgiveness and eternal life to those affected, and hope for a new world without such disasters.
We are to weep with those who weep, we are to feed the hungry, heal the sick, find justice for orphans and widows and the vulnerable, and minister grace at every opportunity without blame or censure.
This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at firstname.lastname@example.org.