On Friday, March 11 an 8.9 magnitude earthquake ripped the sea floor off the coast of Japan, shaking that country for 3 to 5 minutes and sending a massive 23 foot tsunami wave onto land, sweeping 14,700 people to their deaths and leaving 26 million tons of debris in its wake.
On Wednesday, April 27 tornados with winds approaching 200 miles an hour descended on seven states killing over 340 people. Tuscaloosa, Alabama was the hardest hit; the tornados there damaged over 5700 buildings.
This week floodwaters threaten to overwhelm the levy protecting the town of Cairo, IL. Floods have already swept away many homes in Midwest states and hundreds have had to evacuate to shelters as rivers continue to rise.
As Christians, we believe God is in control of nature. Psalm 135:6-7 says:
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
If Psalm 135 is true, God seems to have a hand in the natural disasters we have seen in March and April of 2011. The question of those experiencing Tsunami-initiated nuclear meltdown in Japan, picking up pieces of their lives in Tuscaloosa, seeing their home float away in Illinois, or just viewing it all on television may be, “why oh God?”
The Bible tells us these disasters are a result of evil. In the book of Job, two natural disasters – fire from heaven and a great wind – take his property and the lives of his employees and children. Job attributes these to God (Job 1:21) but the reader knows these are caused directly by Satan. Romans 8:21-22 states creation is “in bondage to corruption” and “has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth.” When humanity sinned all of creation was subject to the devastating corruption that followed. Tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and disease are the groaning of a creation bound by the sin of those God appointed to have dominion over it (Gen. 1:28). Like citizens feeling the consequences of the sins and failures of their king, so creation experiences the consequences of the sins and failures of its human stewards.
Some will say – is not God sovereign over both Satan and creation? He most certainly is. They can do nothing apart from His allowing it. So then we naturally ask, “Why does He allow it?” The short answer is no one ultimately knows and no one ultimately has the standing from which to question God. That is the answer Job receives from God about the trouble that has befallen him. God says in Job 40:2, 7-9:
Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let Him answer it… Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like His?
We can in no way begin to approach the understanding to comprehend the ways of God, nor do we have the position from which to question Him. That said, the Bible does not leave us there.
Every disaster God allows is a reminder of our need to repent and turn to Him. In Luke 13, Jesus offers commentary on two tragedies. The government had killed some locals who were offering sacrifices and a tower in Jerusalem had collapsed and killed eighteen people. Jesus clarifies that these tragedies happened not because the individual sins of those killed were so great, but because everyone’s sin is great and it is a reminder we all need to repent. About each incident he says, “…unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” When we see an earthquake shake a city, a tornado tear apart a town, or a flood overwhelm a neighborhood we should realize we deserve no better. Thus, we turn to Christ in repentance for our sins that have earned us far worse.
Disasters are also a physical reminder of a much more devastating spiritual reality – that we are separated from God and dead in our sins. In our normal, upbeat, and busy lives, where we work and entertain ourselves into oblivion, we simply miss this reality. Disasters awaken us to Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” We deserve God’s wrath, yet each day He pours out His grace on believer and unbeliever alike. When disaster strikes we lift our fist to the sky and demand, “Why oh God!” but should be more shocked when God pours joy and blessings into our sinful lives. Those lounging on a tropical beach, holding a newborn baby, or eating a juicy steak don’t often lift their fists to the sky and demand, “Why oh God! You are too good to a sinner who deserves your wrath” but if God is holy and just, we probably should.
John Piper expresses it this way:
The point of every deadly calamity is this: Repent. Let our hearts be broken that God means so little to us. Grieve that he is a whipping boy to be blamed for pain, but not praised for pleasure. Lament that he makes headlines only when man mocks his power, but no headlines for ten thousand days of wrath withheld.
Disasters are the result of evil, both satanic and human. Yet God rules sovereignly over Satan and sin. We cannot understand or question why a certain tornado or flood occurred. Yet He allows these as an expression of his wrath and a reminder to repent and turn to Him. They are not retaliation towards individuals, but symptoms of the brokenness our sin has brought into the world. The real scandal is that God gives so many good gifts when our sin warrants the opposite. We should be stunned not by the bad days, but by the good.
God is more gracious and loving still. For the Christian, God is present with (Matt. 28:20) and comforts us in the midst of our suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-4). He uses it to bring about good for us beyond what we can imagine (Rom. 8:28). He weeps with us in our pain (John 11:35). He takes our sorrows and suffering upon Himself at the cross and dies for us (Isa. 53:4-5). One day, He will wipe away every tear and bring all evil and disasters to an end (Rev. 21:4). When the earth shakes, the wind blows, and the waters rise we have a God who rules powerfully over it and who runs toward our trouble, not away from it. Trust Him. He is love and He is gracious.