Many bloggers and many prominent Christians have spoken on the question of whether natural disasters are the result of God’s judgement against nations and against people. I have felt prompted today to write my own prayerful thoughts following the terrible events from Hurricane Sandy in the US.
Firstly I am praying that I may be sensitive to the fact that some have lost their lives, both in the US and previously in Haiti and other Caribbean islands. Many more have lost possessions, homes and livelihoods. My heart goes out to those affected and my prayers have been and will continue to be with you.
We should be very careful when writing on such a subject that we present God and His nature truthfully. I would be lying if I denied that God is a God that loves justice. I would also be lying if I said that God is never moved to wrath. Yet we should be clear that the primary and all-consuming nature of God is Love. God the Father sent Jesus to save His people from their sins, and if you have, or would, receive Jesus and make Him your Lord and Saviour then you can be assured of mercy.
The Psalmist once spends every other line of a Psalm declaring “His mercy endures forever”.
So does God send natural disasters as a punishment for wickedness? In some instances I believe He does, but I shall qualify that by saying that God takes no pleasure in the death of a sinner and that God does not will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
God, if and when He is moved to wrath, is not like a mortal man who is in a rage and conceives murder in his heart, but rather makes His power known in order that, perhaps, the people may be brought to turn from wickedness and embrace the fullness of joy that is freely available in Jesus. God does not send trials and disasters as mere punishment, but uses them as a means to bring many to a close relationship with Himself.
A passage which I am not the first to point to tells when Jesus was confronted by some Jews who were advocating that very attitude too many preachers seem to take: that disasters happen because of the victims’ sins.
There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other 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 Sī-lōam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?
5 “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
– Luke 13:1-5
Here it is clear – those affected by disasters of whatever sort are no more deserving of that fate than us all. We cannot point the finger and say “Your sins are to blame.” If we even approach this attitude it must be such that “Our sins are to blame.” We have inherited the curse of sin through Adam, and this has been passed on to every person, you and I included, and part of that curse is the curse upon the earth – hence natural disasters.
It is only through Jesus that we may be saved from that sin and eternal wrath, and the disasters that strike us are not formed in the mind of God to punish us, but are allowed by God and used by God to bring us into closer union with Him and may accomplish the real desire of God which is eternal, intimate relationship with you and I.
And note how God loves to show mercy in the verses following Luke 13:5:
He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.
7 “Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’
8 “But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.
9 ‘And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ ”
– Luke 13:6-9
I believe that this passage shows how merciful God is, as the planter is representative of God and the servant representative of God the Son, Jesus, Who pleads with God to spare the fig-tree, representing us, until He has nourished it and built it up. It is here we see that though God is just and must punish sin yet God the Son pleads on our behalf and God the Father shows mercy and puts off the just punishment in order that we may be nourished and fed.
In summary, God is sometimes moved to wrath, yet it is always His first desire to show mercy, and even wrath is used to this end. Natural disasters are the result of a world under sin and the wrath of the devil, but even through these God works things together for good. Our proper response to such disasters is not to point out other people’s sins, but to look at our own sin and repent of it and to show mercy to those who are afflicted.