Like you, I am heartbroken in prayer for our neighbors in Moore – perhaps intensified by the close call we had in North Texas yesterday. As I had a conversation with my son about the tornado, I realized that we (the American church) have some pretty shallow thinking and poor theology when it comes to issues like this. So I here is a short study on what the Bible has to say about disaster. I hope you’ll read it through and be encouraged…but be warned, it’s a bit longer than my usual weekly Catalyst blog.
A Biblical Discussion of Disaster
Introduction. There has been a rash of disasters of late, from tornadoes to man-made accidents.
I’d like to address the topic of disaster from a biblical perspective.
The word disaster describes an occurrence, either natural or manmade that causes widespread destruction and distress; a catastrophe. So the recent tornado in Moore is a disaster just as the fertilizer factory explosion in West…the economy, the draught, and when things really go wrong and a tsunami hits a nuclear power plant – these are all disasters.
I’m reminded of a fictional story of a church which had a bar move in next door. For three weeks the church members fasted and prayed that God would destroy it. Sure enough, a storm blew through, lighting struck, and the bar burned to the ground. The owner of the bar sued the church, but the church denied responsibility. The judge hearing the case was confused when he realized there was a bar owner who believed in the power of prayer, but a church that didn’t.
It may be a funny, silly story, but it shows how we often think of God….waiting to smite the wicked with disaster. Isn’t that what we heard some preachers say about New Orleans? We even put it on our insurance forms: “Act of God.”
Well, what does the Bible have to say about disasters? Unfortunately, it doesn’t give us all the answers to questions we might ask, but there is surprisingly quite a bit. Probably our first question is: Why do disasters happen in the first place?
Disaster a Consequence of Sin (Genesis 3; Romans 8:20-22)
The answer to that question is sin. When God created the earth, it was perfect. There was no sickness nor death, no accidents nor misfortunes. Everything worked perfectly – it was called “paradise”. But in Genesis 3 there was a drastic change. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and introduced sin into the world. This brought at least two fundamental changes:
· To Humans: Sickness and death were introduced where they were not before. Our relationship with God was broken, Adam and Eve’s relationship with each other was broken, Cain murdered Abel…and it was’t not long in the account of human history before we saw the first war and rape and other terrible things.
· To the Earth: Not only did we change, but the planet we are so closely connected to as managers and stewards changed. Briars and thistles appeared, it became “laborious toil” to receive the benefits of the earth, and other things like storms and earthquakes and plagues of locusts appeared where they were not before. Paul describes it this way:
Romans 8:20-22 (NIV) 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Since you and I live in this world, these disasters affect us just like everyone else. We get sick, we can die, we can get into accidents – we can even be the victims of sinful men and women. As Jesus says: “It rains on the just and the unjust.”
Disaster as Judgment (Genesis 6-8)
Sometimes, but not often, the Bible talks about disaster as a judgment of God for a specific sin. The best known example is the Genesis 6 flood. God caused it because of the wickedness of the world. It is important to note that after the flood, God promised never to bring such a universal disaster on the earth again. This doesn’t mean there are no more disasters, but they are limited in scope. You’ll also note that disasters as judgment are only mentioned in the Old Testament…
Disaster as a Call to Repentance (Hebrews 9:27)
In Deuteronomy 28 God gives Israel a choice: follow him and receive blessing, depart from him and live under a curse. In that passage, choosing curse over blessing leads to disasters. In Jonah, God threatens to destroy Nineveh, but stays his hand when they repented.
Hebrews 9:27 (NIV) 27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment… In a sense, disasters serve as reminders to us that we live in a sinful world and we need a restored relationship with God.
Disaster as a Sign (Matthew 24:3-8)
Matthew 24:3-8 (NIV) 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
The last topic here is that disaster is a sign. In the very same way it is a call to repentance, it is also a sign that we are nearing the end. And as the frequency of these disasters grows, we are reminded that we are getting closer and closer.
Disaster: A Case Study (Luke 13:1-8)
Luke 13:1-8 (NIV) 1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’8 “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.
Background: Jesus has just been teaching the crowds about interpreting the times (you know how to interpret the weather, in the same way you should be looking at the spiritual world to discern what is taking place). No doubt, at this point, someone shouts out a question about the latest headlines (or, Jesus is just a good speaker and knows the questions his audience wants answered). So Jesus mentions two recent disasters on his audience’s mind:
· While making sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple, some sort of riot erupted and several Galileans were killed by soldiers under the leadership of Pontius Pilate. (In an unrelated event) Eighteen people in Jerusalem were crushed when a tower fell on them (perhaps a building accident).
These events were the talk of the town. So Jesus uses them as an opportunity to teach. Does this mean that these folks, the Galileans and those in the tower, were worse sinners than the rest of us? Were these two disasters God’s judgment on them?
Jesus answers the question twice: “I tell you no!” These weren’t judgments – one was a terrible accident and one was a terrible crime. God didn’t do it. Like the man born blind in John 9 – who sinned, this man or his father and mother? Jesus’ answer is the same – God didn’t do this.
But Jesus doesn’t pass up the opportunity to make a spiritual point about these news stories. The same fate – or similar – awaits us all. So we all need to be spiritually prepared and repentant. (I think when he says “you too” it is especially poignant since both disasters took place in Jerusalem, and within years the temple would be destroyed and many Jews murdered…a warning.)
Jesus continues in verse 6 with a parable of a fig tree. Jesus emphasizes the caretaker’s tender attention to the tree and his desire to find fruit – and his patience in waiting for that fruit. In the same way, Jesus cares for us and God wants us to repent and bear fruit. But we don’t have forever…
Disasters and the End
The Bible teaches that the spirit of the antichrist is at work in this world.
1 John 2:18 (NIV) 18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.
But at the moment, he is held at bay by the Holy Spirit’s ministry through the church (2 Thess. 2). How long will this last? We don’t know. But not forever. At some point in the future, the real Antichrist will make his appearance and throw the world into upheaval.
- We will see wars
- We will see the murder of the Saints
- We will see natural disasters on the scale we’ve never seen
- We will see economic disasters.
- And then we will see God’s wrath – but only against his enemies
The book of Revelation warns us of these things to come, and from my study, he promises to protect us, but does not promise to spare us. Will we be ready? Will we be prepared?
By way of application, let’s talk about being prepared. The church is vitally important to God’s plan in this world…he has no plan B. So we must be prepared for disaster:
o By trusting God to help us in the midst of disaster.
o By trusting in God’s goodness – Romans 8:28 – and defending his honor.
o By taking action after a disaster and warning before [Read Acts 11:27-28]
o And each one of us must be vigilant of our own spiritual state, for “we too will likewise perish.”
o Expect, anticipate persecution and tribulation – resolve, courage, steel in spine are necessary
o Be committed to justice and mercy
o Go and make disciples
o Other preparations and planning are helpful, but remember to trust God.