Natural disasters. They’re tough for people to deal with. They make people reject the possibility of a God who is both sovereign AND loving, or accuse God of mistreating them.
So what is the Christian approach to them? I’m not going to deal with the general concept of suffering here, that’s much bigger. But here’s a couple of thoughts I’ve been thinking.
- Romans 8:28 says that God is working for the good of those who love him, through ALL things. That means that if God doesn’t stop a natural disaster, then somehow it is working for ultimate good. It may be hard to see, and it may still be tragic. In the end, God has used it for the benefit of his people.
- A corrupt, broken creation comes from the fall. in Romans 8 we see a creation which longs to be redeemed from bondage to our sin. If death is a consequence of the fall, and a broken creation is the consequence of the fall, then destructive and fatal natural disaster only existed because we rejected God, and there will be a time when life and creation are restored.
- We do not need to fear them. This does not mean that a disaster could never claim the life of one of God’s people. As Paul said in Philippians, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain”. In Romans 8 we see that no power, height, depth, etc. can separate us from God’s love in Christ. The whole story of the bible shows that God is faithful; he won’t bail out on you.
- In dealing with the aftermath, we should be a light to the world. Perhaps God is calling people to him through our witness; the way we sacrifice our time and money to love others. Jesus says that those who follow him will love the poor and show hospitality, and to love as we have been loved (laying down our life for others). Paul says we ought to be recognised by our love and that we ought to give and serve with love and service of God as primary motives (above any self-service). Romans 12 says we ought to weep with those who are weeping; be sensitive, empathetic and loving in others’ distress.
- This is, probably, the hardest one. Praise. We should worship and glorify God in disaster. We should see his power and glorify him. In revelation, when God pronounces final judgement on those who are not his people, his people praise God for his justice. Similarly, events may be tragic, but we are called to praise God’s Sovereignty. Revelation and all the apocalyptic imagery is hard to interpret, but it is clear that among the terrible things going on in nature, God is praised.
Psalm 29 is really challenging on this final point.
Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth
and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
May the LORD give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with peace!