- Love and Liberty
Does God Cause Disastrous Events?
Does God send earthquakes to take people’s lives? If he does not choose to send them, does he intentionally allow them for a specific purpose? Are disastrous events mere random occurrences? If God causes a disastrous event, why would he do so? Why does he allow wars? Why did he command Israel to battle against another nation, with both women and children becoming casualties? These are all questions that people have asked, some out of sincerity, and some because they refuse to submit to the Lord’s rule over their lives and they use these kinds of questions to justify their rejection of God.
Again, is God ever responsible for these types of events? If he is, is he responsible for all of them? Is there a reason behind them? Is it just nature taking its course? How could a good God allow this kind of suffering? Some people say that God causes them all; some say he does not cause any of them. Tragedies cause many people to question God’s goodness. Yet many of these same people are inconsistent in their ridicule of the Lord. They will ask in an accusatory fashion: “How could a good God allow evil to prosper?” But then they hear that God moved the armies of Israel to destroy nations that were habitually practicing evil and they ask: “How could a good God do that?” They apparently are not bothered by the contradiction.
Those people aside, how do we answer those who genuinely have intellectual difficulties with these kinds of issues? Can God prevent disasters from happening? Of course he can. Does God sometimes cause disastrous events?
The Bible says in Isaiah 45:5-7: “I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” The word for evil in this verse is not referring to moral evil, but to calamity, destruction, or disaster.
The Bible says in Deuteronomy 11:17 – “Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the Lord’s wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the Lord giveth you.”
Numbers 16:30-34 says: “If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the LORD hath not sent me. But if the LORD make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the LORD. And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them:” And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.”
These examples show us that God will use droughts and earthquakes as judgments for sin.
Is every disastrous event a punishment from God? I believe the answer is no. God created the universe and the laws of nature, and I would say that many, if not most, of the disastrous events on earth are a result of these laws at work. In much the same way that God allows free will agents to make choices, and he allows the consequences of those choices, he allows the earth to reflect the consequences of a suffering and groaning creation. Romans 8:19-22 tells us, “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” Everything in creation is groaning, waiting for a better day.
Be that as it may, it is evident that God will choose to use what we would call a disaster, not arbitrarily, but for a specific reason. But whether disasters are sent by God, or specifically allowed by God for a purpose, or they are merely random weather events, I think we can learn some valuable truths when it comes to our earthly lives and how we relate to eternity.
The Lord has revealed his character to us in the Bible. He is loving, good, holy, and motivated by a desire to see people repent and follow him. He is more concerned with molding us into Christlikeness than he is in making us comfortable. Many Bible passages reveal his motivations. Is anger ever a motivation for God? Christians believe in a God who once flooded the entire earth ending the lives of everyone but eight people. He regretted creating mankind. Some people teach that God does not have emotions. They say that all the verses which depict God as having emotions like anger, or regret, or grief are not to be taken literally. They say those are just terms God used to be able to speak to man on his level. What would the point be? What purpose would that serve? What truth would be behind it? It is true that the Bible uses metaphors, non-literal descriptions of God at times – like when it speaks of the fact that the Lord would have gathered Israel under his wings like a mother hen, but they would not come to him. Metaphors are figures of speech, but they are used to teach literal truth, for example, that God will protect us and care for us like a mother hen protects and cares for her chicks. But God’s emotions are not metaphors. God literally regrets, he gets angry, he sorrows, he changes his mind and course of action at times, based on the choices of people. God is interactive and relational. People can find favor with God (like Noah). Conversely, there are examples in scripture of God wiping out pagan nations and even people of Israel because of his anger. When people are committed to sinning, and are a threat to others, God will do something about it.
So yes, God sometimes intervenes and judges people and nations through calamitous events. God becomes angry with the wicked because his commandments are reasonable and good for us, and good for the people of earth. All loving persons hate injustice, and God is no different. If God does not ultimately punish those who are selfish, he would not be supporting his commandments, and would not be protecting those who follow him. What would you think of a parent who sits passively by, watching a group of evil men bring harm to his family? According to some people’s idea of love, the parent would be wrong to forcefully deal with the evil men because it would not be “loving” toward them. What about his love for his family? What about protecting his family from harm? When Christ commanded us to love our enemies, did this mean to let them have our way with our families? I think not. We would be outraged by such an attitude, and rightfully so. Love seeks the good of others. Seeking the good of others sometimes entails reacting strongly against evil. It is love that demands that those who are causing harm, and will not repent, should be punished. How could a loving and all-knowing God not be angry every day with what he sees on this earth?
Other questions might arise from this. For example, why would God send judgment on the people in one area, but not another area, when there are evil things going on all over the world? Should we conclude that they were more deserving? The Lord Jesus once commented about two tragedies of his day, and he told his listeners that they would be wrong to assume that those who died violent, untimely deaths were necessarily more deserving than others. (Luke 13:1-9) Those who perished were not greater sinners than those who survived. They were equally deserving of perishing, and the Lord Jesus warned those survivors, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Instead of wondering why so many people have perished in some tragic event, we should be wondering why so many people are still alive on earth, and we should marvel at the Lord’s patience with us. Better yet, rather than pointing a finger of accusation at God and asking, “Why them?” people should be pointing the finger at themselves and asking, “Why wasn’t it me?” There is only one answer to that question: God’s longsuffering mercy. We should take heed to the events that occur around us. Everyone should repent and give the Lord his rightful place in their lives.
But what about the children who perish in these events? Most of us who believe in God’s mercy, wisdom, and fairness believe that he does not hold children accountable until they approach moral accountability. I would say that every single precious human life – in the womb, newborn, infant, child – was born innocent, (not righteous, not sinful) and because they never reached an age of moral accountability, they are now in the presence of God. Now, with that said, as far as natural disasters, calamities, and destruction of entire nations (including the little ones) go, though it may sound insensitive to some, is it not actually better for a babe to die and go to be with the Lord than to grow up under the influence of wicked parents who will lead them to eternal death? We would do well to accept the fact that God’s temporal judgments are often designed to warn people of, or even protect the innocent from, eternal judgment.
But why have people been targeted in the past (or their demise was allowed) who live in a region of the world that has had so little exposure to the Christian gospel? How can it be considered fair that God judges people that have never had a chance to hear that they need to receive Christ as Lord? Paul wrote, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that no person has an excuse before God, because God is influencing every person every moment of his or her life. He is shouting at everyone through his amazing creation, revealing his divine nature and attributes (see Rom. 1:18-20). But people disregard and ignore God’s influence, including the witness of conscience that he puts in all people, in order to indulge in the sins of the flesh. They say no to God over and over again until he says: “Have it your way", and he turns them over to a depraved, reprobate mind. This results in them living the most abominable and detestable lifestyles. Of course, wicked people scorn God and his ways and say things like: “I was born this way, I can’t help it.”
God has been preaching to people through the stars, the sun, the moon, child-birth, marriage, the ocean, and all of creation. According to Paul, everyone has heard from God (see Rom. 10:18). Scripture says he has written his law in our hearts, which is evidenced by the fact that our conscience approves of what is right and disapproves of what is wrong. People certainly become more adept at ignoring God’s voice within them as they grow older, but God never stops shouting. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;” “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” God holds everyone responsible for the light that they have, so they are truly without excuse. But most have allowed their hearts to become hard and they do not fear God, so, in his mercy, he sometimes makes attempts to soften their hearts before it is too late. Tsunamis, earthquakes, famines, wars, rumors of wars, sickness, tragedies – all of these can be ways of softening hearts and restoring the fear of God.
But what about Christians who perish in disasters, tragedies, or wars? First, large scale tragedies are often stopped because of the presence of Christians, and the intercessory prayers of Christians. Abraham asked the Lord not to destroy Sodom, asking him if he would spare it if a certain number of righteous people were there. The Lord said yes, but all he found was Lot, so he delivered Lot and destroyed the city. God knows where his people are. Sometimes they are delivered and sometimes they are not. A second point to make is that just because someone claims to be a Christian, does not mean he is a Christian by God’s definition. In the Bible there is record of God killing many Jews who were not Jews by God’s definition. The Lord Jesus asked, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). False Christians, religious hypocrites, are just as deserving of God’s wrath as anyone else, if not more. Is it possible that God is not pleased with most professing Christians in the U.S. who indulge themselves with pleasures while they ignore the plight of the widows, orphans, and other needy people? Do we really think that a loving God can look at that passively? God knows the true spiritual state of every professing Christian who has died in a catastrophic event. Certainly, many true Christians have died on these occasions. I would venture to say that Christians, once they are resurrected to eternal life, will not be angry with God because of what happened.
Every day on earth, over 150,000 people die. It is the equivalent of a major disastrous event happening every day, but because it happens every day and is spread out all over the earth, it does not make the news. God, however, is always trying to get our attention. Even as we look at our aging faces in the mirror each day, God is trying to mercifully warn us that our final day is coming.