Tornadoes, hail, floods..OH MY!

Photo courtesy of cdw0107
It should be no surprise to anyone in the United States that there has been an extraordinary amount of severe weather over the past month or so. Here in North Carolina we had a tornado outbreak last month that set a new record. The last that I heard there were 26 confirmed tornadoes on ONE day. A number of these storms rated an F3 on the Fujita scale, which qualifies as a "severe tornado" with wind speed between 158-206 mph. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and thousands of people are still dealing with the damage these storms have caused. There was a similar, and perhaps more severe, outbreak in Alabama and now people are dealing with massive flooding along the Mississippi River. In addition to these natural disasters we can add to the list the earthquake in Japan and even look back to hurricane Katrina in 2005. No matter when or where these disasters take place there are always haunting and painful questions about God's role in them. Usually the questions begin with the word, "Why."

Responses from Christians vary and they range from the helpful to the downright hurtful. Now, I'm not one to deny the truth in the interest of someone's feelings but there must be a way to both offer comfort and point to the truth of the matter. In the end, though, I don't really know with 100% certainty why God allows (or sends) disasters our way. For that matter, I don't know why disaster strikes certain people and not others. I can only think about the soldier who, in battle, survives while his comrades die. The phrase that is oft repeated in films and books is "Why did I live and they die.?" Recently I found myself asking the same question after the tornadoes in my home state. Why did our area see little, if any damage, and those in other areas face death and total destruction of their property?

Among the tragedy there is always some good that arises. For instance, I believe it is good for us to ponder our own mortality and get a grip on the fact that we are so very small. Despite our amazing advances in technology we are still at the mercy of God and His creation. Furthermore, with those questions of "Why" comes an understanding that there is something far greater at work than humanity. In a perfect world this should serve to point us to the Creator and controller of all things, God. Of course, we do not live in a perfect world. Romans 1 paints a bold picture of how we have ceased to see the God that is behind the natural events of the world because we have become corrupted and blinded by our sin. However, even through the tainted lenses through which we see the world God sometimes shows Himself. In the aftermath of a disaster there are helping and loving hands like those of Samaritan's Purse or the Baptist Men Disaster Relief organization. Those are people who come in and acts as God's healing hands in times of immense pain and suffering.

Even with that the questions still linger..."Why?...Why?" With those questions come a variety of answers. Some would say that God had nothing to do with a disaster. It is not His will that those things should happen but they occur as a result of the corruption of what was once a perfect creation. This sounds valid at first and it is a valiant attempt to remove any guilt from God. However, I think it also removes some of His omnipotence. The entire Biblical narrative proclaims that God has been active in His creation from day one. Amos 4:7 says this;

Furthermore, I withheld rain from you while there were still three months until harvest. Then I would send rain on one city and on another I would not send rain; One part would be rained on, while the part not rained on would dry up.  

Also, in the book of Joshua we see God holding the sun in its place so that the battle can continue and the Israelites can achieve victory. Even at the Cross we see God causing the earth to respond to the death of its Savior. As hard as it is to say, I do not believe that God is absent or out of control when natural disasters strike.

The flip-side of the discussion says that events such as Katrina and the earthquake in Japan are divine judgements on the sins of the people in that area. This view certainly has more of a Biblical basis but it still runs headlong into some problems. First and foremost is the fact that no part of the earth is without blame in the eyes of God. Sin abounds across the globe and if Katrina was judgement on New Orleans where is the natural judgement on North Korea or Iran? I admit that I do not have insight into the divine Mind and it could be that God foresaw a greater chance of repentance in New Orleans than in North Korea or Iran. However, I don't think this response offers the balance between truth and love that we should be aiming for. I do not believe that God delights in sending tragedy among His creation. It seems to me, after reading some of the prophets, that these are last resort actions on His part. When the people fail to heed the words of His prophets then the tragedy must come. Why though? Amos offers further guidance here as well;

Yet you have not returned to Me.

God's plan is to draw us close to Him and see people come to believe in Him and accept Christ as their Savior. To get us to that point He often times works from the least severe to the most severe. In Israel God would send a prophet to warn the people that they were straying and that His judgement would come should they not turn to Him. "Well, we don't have prophets anymore so what are we supposed to do?" you may say. I disagree and part of the problem is that we don't have a clear understanding of what the prophet's role was in Israel. Normally, we see prophets as being the guys who told about the future and the end times. This is true enough but it is also an incomplete view of what a prophet was sent to do. A large part of their job was to be watchmen to Israel. In essence they were the spiritual "litmus paper" of the nation. Once we received the Great Commission and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit WE became the watchmen of the world. The question is, have we fulfilled this role? I would have to say the answer is, "no."

God doesn't want to send disaster and tragedy among His people. However, we believers have not proclaimed the fact that people need to turn to Him. When a tornado destroys a family's home and they ask us why God would allow that to happen our answer should be, "I don't know why God allowed this to happen but I do know that the reason you have that question is because I haven't done my job as a follower of Christ." As believers, when our life is turned upside down in a tornado or a flood or an earthquake we may not understand it but we have peace knowing that God is in control and that we are in His hands. Our responsibility is not to avert the disaster but to prepare people for when it does come...because trial and tragedy will come. You see we should not have to address the disaster itself, that is God's business alone, but we should be addressing the reason for the question. That reason is that they have not turned to God who, even in the midst of crisis, offers peace and the ultimate answer of His love and perfect will. The challenge then is this; when we hear these questions leveled towards God we should not feel bad that our God did this. No, we should feel bad that we did not prepare the people to answer the questions on their own by sharing the Gospel with them.

Finally, I will say this. Faith in God is not the magic bullet that alleviates all questions and makes us impervious to struggles and doubt. We all can point to times in our lives when, though we believed, we still found ourselves wondering "why?" However, even then we had the immovable rock of our Lord to stand on and look to.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed... 2 Corinthians 4:8-9



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