Where Is God In Natural Disasters?
As I write this I have just read about recent tornadoes that have swept through the southeastern United States and left hundreds of people dead as a result. I am reminded of the recent tsunami in Japan that claimed the lives of multiplied thousands. Few images have been more disturbing than the news reports of the 2010 Haiti earthquake which took over 200,000 lives and left an island in destruction. A tornado swept through Myanmar in 2008 killing 138,000. The year 2004 brought a tsunami from the Indian Ocean that decimated Indonesia and swallowed approximately 230,000 people. In fact there have been many natural disasters in just this last century and this list excludes countless other disasters that have come straight out of nature without known causes. The two greatest calamities in the past century have struck China. In July of 1976 the Tangshan earthquake engulfed between 250-775,000 people. November of 1931 brought the same country what is considered to be the greatest disaster of the past century (if not of all time) with floods that killed countless people (estimates go as high as 4 million) and affected 28.5 million people by disease and loss. With every disaster comes one of the deepest questions of humanity. A question asked through the ages by all who know and witness personal suffering in the midst of natural disaster. Their question is, “Where is God in all of this?”
There is never a shortage of supposed prophets desiring to explain things for God. Some are quick to explain to all who will listen that this destruction must definitely be the hand of God’s judgment calling people to repent. Some are quick to explain that God would never do such a thing to people who are so good and innocent. Both of these schools of prophecy seem somewhat presumptuous to me. In the midst of various voices (and difficult emotions) the Bible gives us guidance regarding God’s sovereignty over nature and His involvement in such suffering. Everyone at some time asks this question. Believer and non-believer alike want to know, “Where is God in natural disasters?”
It is true that God has promised to remove His wrath from His children. This promise to all who believe in Christ is found in Romans 5:9, “having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him (Christ).” Romans 8:1 states, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And the comfort of 1 Thessalonians 5:9 is, “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God has assured all who are in Christ that they are free from ever receiving His awesome wrath and judgment.
However, the Scripture also promises that those who are not in Christ by faith are currently and will be the recipients of God’s wrath. John 3:36 says, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3:18 reports, “He who believes in Him (Jesus) is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already.” And of course the book of Revelation provides vivid pictorial samples of the wrath which is to come when God brings His final judgment upon the earth. The kings and men of the earth will hide themselves in caves and in rocks of the mountains and beg for the rocks to fall upon them and dash them to pieces just so they may hide from the face of God’s holy vengeance and the wrath of the Lamb of God (Revelation 6:15-17). One natural disaster after another is described as continuous acts of God’s judgment. This final day of judgment comes to its consummation when Christ returns in Revelation 19:11-20:15 and “He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God (19:15).”
One presumptuous school of prophecy in the discussion of God’s involvement in natural disasters says He is not involved. They are quick to explain the situation away so that no one in our culture will think that God is the least bit unfair. These people however ignore the rebellious state of sin and the ensuing condition of sinful man. The nature of God’s perfect holiness is such that He must bring judgment upon those who have revolted against Him and refused His reconciling grace through Christ. These who are eager to speak for God say things like, “God would not do this to these innocent people” and “God would never do this because He is a God of love.” First, there is no such thing as innocent people. We are all guilty of sin. People are “sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2) and “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). We have all turned away from God (Isaiah 53:6) and our hearts are “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Let us be honest, we are not innocent and our actions condemn us. We all deserve judgment and destruction but God is rich in mercy in that He gives us life. He has even provided for us in His richness of mercy the way to escape condemnation by trusting in the gracious work of Christ Jesus. Second, God does love us. This love however does not cancel out the attribute of God’s justice. His infinite love toward us extends Jesus as the sacrifice for our sins and sets Him forth on the cross to receive the judgment that we deserve (Romans 3:25). But to receive the benefits of God’s love we must receive it. All who are in Christ by faith have escaped God’s wrath but all who are not in Christ stand on their own to receive the wages of their sin (Romans 6:23). Those people who are quick in their attempts to defend God’s fairness need to remember that fair is a synonym for just. Justice is what we deserve and it is sometimes what God delivers through natural disasters. “If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?” (Amos 3:6)
Another school of prophecy seems to be overly anxious to declare their knowledge of God’s purposes in natural disasters. They are quick to declare that God sent this storm or earthquake or fire to get people’s attention. While this many times is the case, it is best not to be presumptuous in speaking for God regarding what He may or may not be doing. This certainly must be considered and not ignored but to speak specifically about events and their subsequent destruction must be done very carefully with much thought and prayer. The appropriate question in these times of suffering is not “did God do this?” but “how does God want to use me in this?” and “what is God teaching me through this?”. We know God is sovereign and His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). He is doing things which are now more wonderful for us to understand and many times these gifts come through suffering. For some, pain is the only voice loud enough to cause them to repent. For others, we must consider the possibility of our need to repent of some sin and then serve those who are hurting with the love of Christ.