The God of Disasters
by Ed Vasicek
The recent earthquake and resultant tsunamis that devastated Asian coastlines shocked the world: tens of thousands of people dead, lives ruined, and entire villages gone! When such a monumental disaster occurs, we are tempted to ask, "Why, God?" And if asked with a spirit of humility, that's not wrong. The Psalmists often struggled with disasters happening even to those who walk closely with God. One example is Psalm 44:17, "All this has happened to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant."
Some try to shield God from accusation by claiming He is limited by time and ignorant of future events. But the Almighty is not embarrassed to take responsibility for disaster. Isaiah 45:7 reads:
"I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things."
In Exodus 4:11 God even takes the blame for individual handicaps:
"The LORD said to him, 'Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?'" In what sense is God responsible for these tragedies? Did He directly create these events, or did He know about them and allow them to occur? Were the men, women, teens, and children who died as a result of the tsunamis more wicked than those who were spared? Let's contemplate this.
When God cursed the earth after the Fall of Man (Genesis 3), part of that curse was the process of death, entropy, and disaster.
Paul writes in Romans 8:18-22:
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time."
Paul paints the picture of a "groaning universe" characterized by suffering. This suffering is a result of the curse, but our consolation is that this curse is temporary: there will be no curse when the era of the New Heaven and the New Earth debuts (Revelation 22:3).
Until then, natural disasters remind us that our holy God is angry at the physical universe (and mankind in particular) because of sin. Romans 1:18-20 reads, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-- his eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."
Although we technically refer to such natural disasters as "Acts of God," we fail to realize that this is precisely what they are. Disasters intermittently reveal God's wrath from heaven. Although the complexity of nature teaches us that God is the Master Engineer of all that is created, disasters remind us that something is wrong: God is angry.
So when disaster attacks a certain group of people, does that mean God is angrier at that group than another? While this is sometimes the case (as, for example, with Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18-19), natural disasters are not typically aimed at the worst offenders. They are, instead, reminders that this world is under the curse. And the curse is anything but fair and equitable.
We have an audience with God, but we cannot control Him. He is faithful and He keeps His promises. Jesus promised, "In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Although we prefer to cling to the latter part of this verse, we have to acknowledge, albeit grudgingly, that both portions are true. We do know that God knows all things (even what would have happened IF -- see 1 Samuel 23:10-13), and that our omnipotent God can do as He pleases. If God merely allowed the earthquake to occur as a consequence of nature being cursed (my view) or if He proactively caused it, we must remember that He has a long-term goal: to glorify Himself by working all things together for good to them that love God (Romans 8:28). In ways beyond our understanding, God allows disaster and evil to work a greater good than would have occurred had not the evil been allowed.
Trying to figure out HOW the particulars contribute toward His long-term plan is worse than futile. We do not have to like it. We do not have to defend God's ways, which are "higher than ours." But sometime, somewhere, we will have to come to terms with these spiritual facts of life.
We don't have the answers; the Bible only gives us assurance that we will understand -- one day.