At our ladies’ Bible study, we recently had a stimulating discussion about why God sends natural disasters. The text for the morning was from Psalm 39 where the troubled Psalmist pleads desperately, “I am mute; I do not open my mouth for it is you who have done it.” The implication here is that God is the cause of the disaster, that He has purposely brought this difficulty into David’s life. Some ladies wanted to defend God from the charge of intentionally bringing calamity into people’s lives. Others wanted to say that those who experience troubles are merely receiving the punishment due them. What is a biblical response to catastrophe on a personal or community level?
1. God does not generally use natural disasters to punish specific people for specific sins. In Luke 13:14 Jesus rebukes those who would point a judgemental finger at others experiencing trouble: “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” The immense wrath of God against sin is not satisfied by falling towers, floods or fires. That wrath was eternally appeased by God’s punishment against His own Son on the behalf of rebellious sinners. “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”As one of the ladies later commented in an email, “There is a potential tower waiting to fall on all who wilfully hold God at a distance.”
2. God does not helplessly watch as the cursed earth groans under natural disasters. Nor does He merely allow such calamities. He purposes these events to draw people’s attention to eternity. Ecclesiastes 7:2 reminds us, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” Does it bother you that God is responsible for the death of people in cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis? Job accused God of mocking at the calamity of the innocent (Job 9:23). Do you agree with Job? But God will not answer our accusations. Instead He affirms His right to manage His own creation. “I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.” (Isaiah 41:4) He questions those who question Him: “Where were you when Ilaid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4)
A newcomer listened quietly throughout our study last Wednesday Having just arrived from China with her husband to serve in the Chinese congregation in our town, Jane was unknown, and we were uncertain of even how much English she understood. However, at the very end she spoke and wrapped up the whole study succinctly, pointing us to Colossians 3:3: “Your life is hid with Christ in God.” Jane reminded us that we who believe in Jesus have nothing to fear from natural disasters because we are hidden in Him. Horrible tragedies like the Christchurch earthquake should fill us with compassion for those who are outside of Jesus, not safely tucked under the feathers of His righteousness and love. And those who are in such a precarious spiritual state should be well-warned that one day judgment will fall on all who are without Christ.
Earthquakes and floods may alarm our world, but we are secure in Jesus, uniquely situated to offer comfort and hope to panicked souls. Remember, these are but the beginning of sorrows to those who are lost, but for those who know Jesus, they are a sign to “lift up our heads for our redemption draweth nigh.”