Over the last century, humans have gained more control over life than ever before. Advancements in science, technology and medicine have allowed us to feel like we can master just about anything. But how much control do we really have? As the tragic events in Japan unfolded, it reminded me of just how little control we possess. The forces of nature can quickly show us how vulnerable and transient our lives are on this globe!
Listening to expert geologists explain what happens under the surface of the earth to cause quakes and tsunamis leaves one feeling more than a little vulnerable. The earth they describe is an internally convulsing and volcanically turbulent place. I get the strange feeling that these experts know more than they’re telling us. But how much is predictable, even for them? And greater predictability could not have stopped the unleashing of the destructive forces witnessed in Japan. These are matters beyond human control.
But when faced with what we call natural disasters, people ask me a different set of questions. I am not a geologist so they don’t bother me with scientific matters. They ask me tougher questions. They want to know how God relates to natural disasters. Is God in control? Did he cause the earthquake and tsunami? Is this an act of divine judgment? Is this fate? Were these people just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Will God protect us if we call on him? These are the kinds of questions I am asked.
And these are not merely theoretical questions. When natural disasters strike some people lose their lives; others lose all but their lives; still others are (as some say) miraculously spared. But how does God’s protection relate to natural disaster? Is God in control when the earth shakes and floods pound islands–churning out unimaginable devastation in their path?
Does God control the weather? Who sends the wind and rain? Why does one part of the world endure unbearable drought while floods devastate another? Why do some people get all the so-called “nice” weather? Is this simply “Mother Nature” randomly unleashing her powers? Or, is the Creator himself in charge of even the bad weather?
Jesus used metaphors of rains, floods and winds beating against a house until it fell (Matthew 7:27). He spoke of a time when, “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11). He called this “the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:8).
According to Scripture, the world as we know it, is not meant to last forever (see: II Peter 3:10-12). In association with the end, Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26).
Perhaps the realities of violent weather are simply part of life in a world turned against its Creator. We know that the Creation itself came under a curse because of human rebellion against the Creator (Genesis 3:17- ““Cursed is the ground because of you”).
The apostle Paul wrote, “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…” (Romans 8:20-21). What did he intend for us to envision when he wrote, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22)? Is this a picture of creation convulsing as if to remind us that something has gone wrong with the natural order?
We are certainly not a peace with our environment. Some even say we are causing the environment to convulse against ourselves by disrespecting it. Perhaps we are partly to blame for some of the consequences. Have we built cities and homes in the wrong places?
What people ask me is how tospecifically understand God’s plan and power in relation to destructive displays of nature.
Should those who love God expect to be protected from harm? Examples are recorded in scripture of God’s interventions for his people. Yet there are examples of those God did not deliver from physical danger (Hebrews 11:35-38). What should we expect? Does God offer any guarantees concerning physical safety in a fallen world?
Each day on this planet, dangers affect or threaten all areas of life: physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, social, and ecological. We live in a world full of unsafe people, places and things. We have good reasons to be concerned about our personal, local, national and international security.
God does not guarantee safety from harm in this life. Sometimes He chooses to intervene; sometimes He does not. Neither action should be measured by the worthiness of those who receive it (see Luke 13:1-5). Sinners deserve death (Romans 3:23;6:23); living sinners experience undeserved extensions of life.
Whether God allows or causes suffering, it’s always understood as an opportunity to trust Him (Psalm 62:8) and to turn our focus toward the eternal (II Corinthians 4:16-18). It’s also a sober reminder of our physical separation from the full security of his presence (Revelation 21:3-5).
When our fellow-humans suffer, it’s an occasion for helping those in need (II Corinthians 1:3-5). When thousands suffer from homelessness, disease and death as a result of hurricanes and other disasters, we can’t just say, “Oh well, that’s life in a fallen world.” Compassion requires more from us.
Whatever we conclude about God’s involvement in the bad weather, Scripture never depicts God as helplessly watching events beyond His control. God is absolutely sovereign. Yet God’s control is never presented in a way that diminishes human responsibility (Genesis 45:4-8;50:20).
The really good news and sure hope is found in the truth that in the end, evil (whether moral or circumstantial) will not be victorious. God’s good purposes will prevail. Any apparent delay in the victory of God’s purposes is due to His patience and offer of salvation to a rebellious world (Romans 9:22-23).
What can we expect from God? He clearly promises to be with us in our trials– sustaining us with grace and comforting us when we turn to Him. More importantly, he promises eternal life to all who trust in Jesus Christ for salvation (John 3:16-17).
God does not promise heaven on this earth. Many times life on earth mirrors hell more than heaven. But heaven is the place God is preparing for us (John 14:1-3). This is no pie in the sky by and by. This is a real place where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
God ultimately delivers his people from all evil. And, the certainty of God’s promise is not in any way threatened by physical circumstances (see: John 10:27-28; Romans 8:35-39).
After suffering many trials, author Nancy Guthrie concluded, “I’ve come to see that His ‘protection plan’ is more vast and far-reaching than my shallow expectations once defined. I see now that God’s promises for protection go much deeper than protecting my body or my agenda or my plan for life. I can rest easy. I’m protected.”