As you read this I hope you are doubling down in prayer for the victims of Hurricanes Harvey & Irma, for those in the path of a storm, or for those working to recover from a disaster. Please take a moment to do that before reading on.
What is a Christian to make of natural disasters? They happen frequently and when they do people want to know, ‘Why God?!’ Books have been written on the topic and I will not attempt to address all our concerns in this brief post. What I want to do, however, is to make three points that I pray will be helpful to you as you process the disasters on the news. I’ll speak of Irma specifically since she’s bearing down on South Florida as I write.
First, disasters are not how God punishes sin. Yes, there are a couple remarkable occasions in scripture when God actively takes ‘hold of the reins of nature to punish an evil people. Sodom and Gomorrah comes to mind. But scripture nowhere gives us reason to search for the sin that brought on a given disaster. Irma is not God’s response to the sin of Miami or any other city. Miami will be hit because Irma is a hurricane and Miami sits in a part of the world where hurricanes happen. Christians must firmly reject any teaching that points to a more specific moral or spiritual “cause” to a disaster.
Jesus himself warns us against victim blaming when it comes to disease and disaster.
Remember the blind man he encountered? The story is found in John 9. Jesus’ disciples want to know why this man was born blind. Was it his sin or his parents’ sin? (Interesting they thought it possible that this [grown] MAN’S sin may have caused him to be BORN blind isn’t it?) Jesus corrects their thinking. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
The works of God? How are the works of God displayed in a horrific disaster? This brings us to point number two.
God is bigger. God is infinitely more powerful than the fires raging out west, the tsunamis threatening Mexico or the hurricane approaching Florida. The God you serve – the Rock of Ages who clefts for you – can, at any moment say to the wind “Quiet. Be still.” And the wind will dutifully comply. Though scripture tells us God grieves in the face of death (John 11:35) he does not feel fear and anxiety as you and I do. With a mighty hand and outstretched arm God has ushered history forward to this point. Embolden by his bigness, we then, who are small, by faith, trusting in God’s power and love, allow ourselves to be led forward from here. This includes rolling up our sleeves to help those affected and giving financially to speed along relief.
Third and finally, we should learn from disasters that evil exists. Luke 13 opens with a report that some Galileans were being butchered by the government. (They were perhaps followers of a false prophet). Sensing the people were wondering if this is God’s punishment, Jesus preempts their thinking. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! (See again my point #2 above). But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Jesus then offers another illustration from another natural disaster with which his listeners would have been familiar). 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? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
When God takes his hand off the wheel, so to speak, when God leaves us to our own devices, disaster ensues. Make no mistake, with each and every sin you and I are requesting God forsakenness. God forsakenness is what Adam and Eve demanded in the garden. “Leave me alone God!” Evil is the natural result, the ONLY possible result of God granting that request. Of God showing what it really would be like if he were to totally and finally leave us alone. The storm is but a window into chaos. Absent the God of beauty and order, chaos is all that’s left.
This healthy fear of the Lord should drive us to our knees in repentance. As we pray for the physical safety and healing of those in the path of the storm, we then pray all the more for those in the path of eternal destruction. For those who would shake their fists at God even to the bitter end requesting, no, demanding, that he leave them alone.
Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus!
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.