The tornado that ripped through Pontiac this week wreaked havoc, injured at least one family, and left thousands without power. Thankfully, it didn’t claim any lives. But, this isn’t always the case. Other natural disasters in recent years have claimed hundreds of thousands of human lives and cost hundreds of billions of dollars in damage to homes, cities, businesses, and the like. Given that those of us who live in central Illinois, especially Livingston County, just had a near brush with a destructive and deadly natural disaster, we might be asking the question, “Why?” Why does God allow natural disasters?
This is a common question after a storm like the one we had this week. Churches in our area may experience higher attendance this Sunday, as people’s close encounter with the power of Nature gave them pause to consider the frailty and mortality of human life. This leads some to seek the answer in a church, while others shake their fist at God and curse Him for allowing a tragedy. Personally, I find it troubling that natural disasters are often labeled “acts of God,” and yet little or no credit is attributed to God for the many good things that we experience daily. When was the last time we stopped to thank God for a sunny day at the park, or the perfect morning fishing trip? When was the last time we gave credit to God for the little breeze that cools us on a hot Summer day, or the beauty found in the colors of the Fall leaves? We often take these little blessings for granted, and then respond with anger at God when our basement floods, or, worse, when a tornado rips through our town and hurts people we love.
Looking at natural disasters from a biblical perspective, we may discover a few things. First, Genesis 1 teaches that God is all-powerful, the Maker and Master of the entire Universe–including the planet Earth and our own lives. Indeed, Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it; the world, and all who live in it.” This means God has power over the weather. And yet, science has shown us that God created the Universe to function according to certain natural laws, and there are natural cycles and weather patterns that are simply part of the natural world in which we live.
Second, even though the Universe operates according to the natural laws God defined for it, sometimes God intervenes. In Deuteronomy 11:16-17, God warned the nation of Israel that if they turned away from him to worship the false gods of the other nations, he would “shut up the heavens so that it will not rain.” This warning was fulfilled in 1 Kings 17, under the prophet Elijah. Yet, just as every instance of good weather is not directly caused by God’s intervention, every instance of bad weather is not directly caused by God either. Sometimes a storm is simply the normal result of the natural laws by which our world functions.
Third, it is wrong to say that every natural disaster is caused by God to punish sinful people. The Bible teaches that we live in a world that is twisted by sin. In Romans 1:18-32, we learn that sometimes God’s judgment on sinful people is to allow them to continue in their sin. This is the worst kind of judgment because sin takes us further away from the love and blessing and protection of God, while at the same time wreaking devastation, pain, suffering, depression, addiction, and ultimately death in our lives. Sin destroys everything and everyone it touches–and it doesn’t just affect you. Sin will systematically track down and destroy everyone you love.
Yet, God allows us the freedom to choose to sin, and that sin is reflected in humanity at large–just look at ISIS if you don’t believe me. In the same way that sin is reflected generally in humanity, Romans 8:19-21 teaches that sin is reflected generally in the Universe as well. This often expresses itself in the form of natural disasters. Our world is twisted by sin, and that means sometimes the laws of nature spin out of control and create tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, and the like. The Bible doesn’t hide this reality, or shrink away from it. We live in a world wracked by evil, suffering, and death.
Fourth, even though the world is full of evil, ultimately good will triumph. Evil is not the victor. Sin will not prevail. Death is not the end. Light overcomes darkness–every time. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin by his death on the cross, and then triumphed over the power of sin through his resurrection on the first Easter Sunday. All of humanity, and the entire Universe, is longing for the curse of sin to be broken. In Jesus Christ, we find the strength to break the power of sin in our own lives, and to work together to overcome the effects of sin in the world around us. And one day, as Revelation 21:1-8 teaches, God will wipe every tear from our eyes and make all things new. In that day, we will not only be free from the penalty and the power of sin, but we will also be free from the presence of sin in our lives and in this world!
Ultimately, we may not ever truly know why God allows natural disasters to occur. We do know, however, that God is good, and he is wise, and he knows what is best for this world. And in the midst of the struggle that is this life, God offers hope: a ray of sunshine in the darkness. That light is the Light who gives life to all who will believe in Jesus Christ and receive him as their great God and Savior. Then, we will have the power to work together, help those in need, respond to disasters, and overcome the sin in the world around us.
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