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Thinking on “Natural” Disasters

April 13, 2011

I receive The Banner of Truth magazine and the following appears in its May 2011 edition that I think captures quite a bit of Biblical truth in a brief amount of space concerning this difficult issue:

“In recent times our part of the world has witnessed a series of disasters—unprecedented flooding in Queensland and Victoria, Australia; an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand; and an earthquake, tsunami,and nuclear radiation in Japan. So far, there have been no reports of pastors reaching for Isaiah 24 or 42, but we must surely ask how Christians are meant to respond to such disasters, and also, if possible, to understand them in the light of God’s sovereignty and will.

“First of all, we are to be people who empathise with human suffering. We are to ‘weep with those who weep’ (Rom. 12:15). If we cannot do that, we had best close our mouths and say nothing. We are not to rejoice when our enemy falls (Prov. 24:17) but seek to do good to all (Gal. 6:10). Whatever else we understand, or think we understand, we have the obligation to relieve suffering as much as we are able.

All things come from God

“The second thing is to realise that all things come from God who does all things well. The Christian response is not that this is simply the result of the forces of nature or that the devil has done this. Those things are true, so far as they go, but God is not just sovereign over good things but over all things. ‘Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?’ (Amos 3:6b). ‘Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?’ (Lam. 3:38). God declares his sovereign power and purpose in all that takes place: ‘I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things’ (Isa. 45:7). We may say that his judgments are unsearchable and his ways inscrutable (Rom. 11:33), but we cannot say that they do notbelong to him. God is at work, even in floods, earthquakes, tsunamis,and nuclear accidents.

“The final point to make is that all disasters are to teach us the lesson of the seven bowls of God’s wrath in Revelation 16. We are fallen and fragile people, and the various afflictions recorded there are meant to awaken people so that they repent and give glory to God. Jesus specifically forbids us to draw the conclusion that those who perish in disasters—whether man-made or ‘natural’—are worse sinners than ourselves (Luke 13:1-5). However, the Lord does say that such disasters serve as a solemn call to repent or we too will perish (Luke 13:3, 5).By nature, we tend to believe that this world is what we can be sure of, whereas the next one is uncertain. By grace, we learn that it is theother way around. It is the kingdom of God that cannot be shaken (Heb.12:28). And in the words of Augustine of Hippo: ‘He will be the goal of all our longings; and we shall see him forever; we shall love him without satiety; we shall praise him without wearying. This will be the duty, the delight, the activity of all, shared by all who share the life of eternity . . . For what is our end but to reach that kingdom which has no end?'”

Peter Barnes, Disasters, Weak Human Beings and A Sovereign God, “The Banner of Truth,” May 2011.

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