50 deaths. Somewhere between 20 and 50 billion dollars. Both numbers still rising. It’s been a costly week.
Meanwhile, everyone from politicians to climate scientists is ready to seize the opportunity. We suffered a disaster. The nation is temporarily focused on one thing. Let the competition for audience and influence begin.
There is a view that stands above the spin and agendas. What does Scripture say about natural disasters?
1. God uses disasters to accomplish His purposes.
Amos asks six rhetorical questions with obvious “no” answers. The last in the series is the stinger—“shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” In context, God reveals that He is at work through the disasters facing Israel and its neighbors. In short, nothing happens without a reason. Disasters are within God’s control over everything and one way that He works in the world. So is every disaster parallel to Amos 3:6? Is God judging America?
2. God is His own interpreter.
The natural question to ask at times like this is “why?” And the only biblical response is that we simply don’t know. God is the only true interpreter of what happened or of why He allowed it.
Luke records Jesus’ response to breaking news of a disaster when Jesus directly refuted a reductionist view of God’s judgment:
Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish (Luke 13:2-5)
Applying these words to nation-states, is there something about our country that makes us more or less worthy of judgment than any other nation? Careful application of Jesus’ words recognizes that God is the only one qualified to interpret or declare His purposes behind disasters. And yet, the other side of Jesus argument is that we all deserve judgment. In fact, the real question is why this doesn’t happen more often.
3. The marvel isn’t that disasters happen but that they don’t.
The first sin sent widening cracks of disorder, decay and death through the creation, destroying the perfect world God made. Every disaster is a reminder that something has gone horribly wrong in the world. It’s only by the common grace of God that the results of sin aren’t more destructive (Matt. 5:45; 2 Thess. 2:7). At times like this, the problem of evil presses itself into our thoughts—if God is all-powerful, why did He send this destruction? But thinking biblically, we should remember that God is restraining evil constantly. As the seismic shocks of sin reverberate and amplify across the centuries, threatening to destroy the creation entirely, God is literally holding the world together. The only reason that planet earth can still sustain life is the universal goodness of God.
Perhaps Sandy was judgment on America. But truthfully, if God allowed a fraction of the judgment any nation deserves, the destruction of this week would be a reprieve (2 Pet. 3:9). If you have a warm home tonight, God is blessing you. Thank Him for it. Thank Him for His mercy in withholding just wrath. Thank Him that you’ll never face condemnation because of Jesus. And in your thanks, let your biblical understanding of disasters take you full circle.
4. Earthly disasters point to heavenly expectations.
This takes us back to where we started: God does use disasters, often for life-saving or redemptive purposes (Gen. 45:5-8). This week, every pundit and commentator will assimilate Sandy into interpretive agendas for their own purposes. But a biblical interpretation of disaster ultimately leads to the grandest agenda of all. As people across the country struggle and question, we have yet another reason to share the story of Someone who suffered immeasurable evil in our place (Isa. 53:4-6; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:17-18). If you know people that were affected, grieve with them, help them, tell them that God loves them so much He will even use physical struggles to draw them to Himself for all eternity. If the storm is far from you, pray, be open with people asking questions, and prepare your own heart, recognizing that disaster will strike you at some point in the future.
Until God makes all things new, the story of human history will always be permeated with suffering, sin, and disasters like Sandy. But by God’s grace, may human history be equally permeated with the glorious good news of salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ!
“We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13).
Joel Arnold is an appointee with Gospel Fellowship Association Missions. He is raising funds for future ministry in the Philippines.