Friday, February 10, 2017

God's sovereignty in natural disasters, accidents and terrorist attacks - A short study


Tsunami warning sign in Phang Nga, Thailand

Tsunamis, floods, storms, earthquakes... do those kind of disasters just happen? Are they God's judgments? 
A common answer from Christians is that God certainly did not cause these disasters, but that he is grieved by the destruction they cause, the lives that were taken, etc. I want to suggest 6 reasons why this kind of thinking stands on very shaky ground, and does not align with what the Bible reveals about God's character. 
The ultimate question is whether anything seemingly bad can be caused by God. He might have reasons that we don't understand, but I don't think that "God allows disasters, but didn't want them to happen" is a very smart answer. Indeed, it's an unbiblical answer. 


If God is not causing (for whatever reason) natural disasters like tsunamis, floods, fires, earthquakes, etc., what would be his role? Just by common sense and, yes, logic, I see 6 options: 

a) He is not able to prevent them from happening (which would mean he is not all-powerful (but all Christians hold that he is all-powerful)

b) He is not willing to prevent them from happening (and thus protect the innocent and the children); a person who was able to prevent a disaster/crime/accident, but didn't do anything can be held responsible (at least in a German court)! 

c) He didn't see them coming/was surprised by them; that would mean he is not all-knowing (but of course all believers hold that God is all-knowing)

d) He knew it would happen, but didn't warn at least his people, so they could evacuate the innocent & children 

e) He simply doesn't care what's happening (but every true believer knows that God is interested even in the smallest detail of our lives - even the hair on our head is numbered…)

f) God is not in control - either Satan or men is, and God has to allow things that he doesn’t want to happen (this seems to be the politically correct answer in modern day evangelicalism, but it does not stand a Biblical test, neither does it solve the above mentioned concerns) 

g) ________________________________(please let me know if you have another thought) 

Any of the above mentioned options make God look to me like a toothless grandpa who would love to see everything being peace, joy and pancakes, but can’t quite muster the strength to really do anything of significance, and who retreats therefore to crying and weeping. The Bible, however, speaks of an all-powerful God, before, during and after the cross, who does whatever he wants and whom nobody can resist…

Job said that he would worship/trust/hope in God "though he slay me" (Job 13:15). And in Job 2:10 Job says ""Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.""

Isaiah 45:7 "I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things." 

Psalm 105:7 “He is the LORD our God; his judgments are in all the earth.”

Revelation 16:7 "Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments."

Saying all that does not mean that every natural disaster is God's judgment. Thailand frequently sees major mudslides destroying villages, and most of them indeed can be blamed on forest encroachment and following erosion. In some cases we can therefore speak of man-made disasters. But a tsunami that kills hundreds of thousands of people is definitely not man-made. The options are thus that natural disasters are either caused by God himself, or that he at least allows Satan or “nature” to cause them, for whatever reason. In the Old as well as in the New Testament are many examples of natural disasters being directly caused by God. Many times children were killed together with their parents, who had sinned (e.g. Numbers 16).

Now some point out that Korah’s rebellion, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the flood were before the cross, and that now nobody has to be afraid of being judged by God, because all punishment was laid upon Jesus on the cross. That is a very good argument, but even after the cross we read about God pouring out his wrath, especially in the book of Revelation. Only in Jesus are we saved from God’s judgment. Those who do not believe in Jesus remain under God’s wrath, in spite of the cross (John 3:36)! But just as God was able to safe whomever he wanted through the flood in Noah’s days, or from the plagues in Egypt, God is able to protect whomever he wants from natural disasters, accidents and terrorist attacks in our time. Therefore, I am not afraid that I will die in a freak accident, unless it’s by God’s appointment. He will fulfill his purpose for me (Psalm 138:8), and no devil and no earthquake will be able to remove me from this planet before God’s purposes have been fulfilled in my life. That’s my strong conviction and confidence!

God is able to safe! But if he chooses not do that, he will have reasons. And I tend to think that God is not merely interested in displaying his awesome power, making man realize how powerless he is, in spite of internet, bank accounts, nuclear bombs and international space stations. God might sometimes really use disasters as judgment and as call for repentance. And then it’s even more tragic when man does not respond by humbling himself and repent! I would say that the USA completely missed the boat in the aftermath of 9/11. While there are many great, god-fearing people in America, who really love God with all their hearts, the overwhelming majority of Americans pay nothing but lip-service to God or even openly oppose godliness on every level. Now the very symbols of the things that most Americans (and other Westerners) really trust in were attacked on 9/11: The World Trade Center was the symbol for economy (banking, trading, insurance, money) and the Pentagon obviously is the symbol for military might. A godly response would have been one of humility and repentance, but America responded in pride, and put even more trust in the economy and in the military. This led to two disastrous military campaigns (Iraq and Afghanistan) and the global financial crisis in 2008.

So, if you think that God never judges anything in our days, you better think twice… you might ignore the very thing that God is using to shake up people’s consciences, and you might just put a band-aid on wounds that will lead to certain death and eternal separation from God if not treated rightly!

For further reading I recommend John Piper’s book “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God”, which you can download for free at http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/onlinebooks/bytitle/2439_Suffering_and_the_Sovereignty_of_God/

* Before about 200.000 people were killed by the tsunami in 2004 in Banda-Aceh (Indonesia) there were no churches in the region; now there are 26… so in some ways the tsunami opened the doors not only for emergency relief teams, but also for the gospel! 



Marks of a disciple

The following is a (non-exhaustive) list of attributes that mark a disciple of Jesus Christ.

A disciple...
  • follows Jesus
  • wants to be discipled (!)
  • is faithful
  • loves people
  • is not only interested in him-/herself
  • cares for others
  • is concerned about other people’s salvation
    (if you are not concerned about this, you are most likely not saved yourself!)
  • is interested in world-evangelization
  • is a giver, not just a taker
  • is obedient
  • knows he/she is forgiven
  • has assurance of salvation
  • is marked with the blood of the lamb
  • is a sheep
  • is chosen (not just called)
  • loves Jesus
  • knows God
  • honors and treasures the Scriptures
  • disciples others