100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Monday, February 7, 2011

#38: Are natural disasters the judgment of God?

So far this year (and it is still early February), Australia has suffered severe flooding and a serious cyclone. Often people will say that this is because God is angry with this nation. So let’s consider whether natural disasters are the judgement of God. If it is common for people to ask this question, then there must be some notion that natural disasters could in fact be the judgement of God. Probably the most obvious place we get this idea is from the story of Noah's flood. God sent this flood precisely as judgement for the wickedness of mankind; to destroy them all, except for Noah and his family, who was the last man of faith alive at that time. So when we see an earthquake or a tsunami televised on the news, some might consider that this is the judgement of God upon the people who live in that place, presuming those people to be more evil than those who have not suffered such a disaster. So we ask, are all natural disasters the judgement of God in the same way that Noah’s flood was?

The Bible says that when Adam sinned, God cursed the Earth...

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it', cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17)

Romans speaks of this as well, saying...

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21)

Natural disasters like bush fires or volcanoes might be considered under the category of “bondage to decay”. Natural disasters, I think, we rightly consider to be part of the curse that God has placed upon the Earth. The whole Earth is in this state of corruption. Not only do we see natural disasters but man made disasters like oil spills and famines due to corrupt government. We see wars and other forms of violence against people; as well as violence against animals to the point that some have become extinct because of what we've done. This corruption, whether natural or man made, covers the whole world and it is not typically targeted at those who are “particularly evil”, as some suppose, but is a result of the sins of all mankind. In the Gospel of Luke we read...

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

When we see the corruption of the world, whether a natural disaster or some other evil, it ought to cause us to think about our own mortality, and about the evil of this world that we need to be saved from. We ought to recognize our need for a Saviour, and be drawn to Christ through such events as we seek salvation from a righteous God. As we read in the Romans passage above, we have the hope (or expectation) that the world will be set free from this corruption. But in Revelation we read of all manner of disasters, and we see the reaction of the people...

The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. (Revelation 9:20-21)

Similarly, in Jeremiah 44, disaster struck the people of Israel. But they said that it must have been because they had stopped honouring their idols. In fact, it was because they had worshipped those idols. This disaster was “targeted” at Israel, but was a message for the whole Earth. Rather than turning back to their idols they could have turned to God and He would have saved them.

I've heard it said that God is like a “Mafia boss” who sets up the trouble from which, if payment is made to him, he will protect you from. Of course, this is designed to denigrate God. However, the analogy fails to understand what's really going on. The Mafia boss wants money and homage from the innocent for his own selfish reasons, whereas God wants us sinners to turn from our sin and love Him, because He loves us beyond measure and wants the best for us. He lets us feel the consequences of our sin so that we might understand the gravity of it, and our need of salvation from it. The Bible says that "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil." (Ecclesiastes 8:11). If we never suffered the consequences of our sin, we would be all the more sinful. When afflicted by natural disasters, it is part of the judgement for sin for it is part of the curse God placed on the whole Earth as a result of sin. Its purpose is to remind us of our fallen state so that we might turn to God for salvation. But it is also an opportunity for those who remain unharmed to help those who have suffered, because it is through us that God expresses His love for the world.

For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men. (Lamentations 3:31-33)

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