Friends, the recent earthquakes, hurricanes and flooding in the US have become fodder for another round of “God is judging” announcements from various religious leaders and self proclaimed prophets. This piece has been sitting ever since the quake/tsunami in Japan. How we think about natural disaster and the resulting suffering is a perennial problem. Some might find this helpful.
Yes, getting tired of those trying to make judgment, prophetic hay out of natural disasters and people’s suffering. You prophesied an earthquake in Japan 20 years ago did you? So what. That does not take faith or prophetic gifting! The Japanese know they are living on the “ring of fire”. Some also prophesied a major earthquake in California for March. It did not happen but where are the apologies for getting it wrong? That is not prophesy. Those are head games.
First of all disaster is not judgement. Listen to Jesus, “Do you suppose that these…. eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them… were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:2- 5.
It is a legalistic, rationalistic mindset that wants to feel in control of life that posits disaster as judgement. It is a religious mindset that clings to the belief that the gods can be controlled and appeased by ritual. It is the pharisee in me that holds fast to the arrogance that my works earn me favour and protection. If I do good, God rewards me. If I do bad, God hits me. Jesus gives us no such false and foolish comfort.
This is the mindset that led a Muslim preacher to declare that the tsunami which hit Thailand Christmas 2004 was a judgement of God on all the immorality which takes place there. How does he then explain that one of the most Muslim Islands on the planet, Ache in Indonesia, was the worst hit area of them all?
So somebody builds a house in a flood plain. They circumvent planning regulations and common sense to do so. They cannot get disaster insurance. Their house floods. They are destitute. Is God judging them? I think not. They knew it was a flood plain. They knew that sooner or later they would be flooded out. They took a foolish risk and got caught. They are reaping the rewards of their stupidity.
So Japan sits on clashing teutonic plates. They know that. They build to withstand the earth quakes that they know are coming. If they had not built in that fashion the death toll would have been in the millions, not in the thousands. What a testimony to wisdom, technology and Japanese commitment to creating safe places to live and work in a difficult region. That is common grace. They also build towns in flood plains and then erect walls to protect them from tsunamis which they know will also come from time to time. Maybe it would be greater wisdom to use that ground for agriculture and build the town on higher ground? They did not. They took a calculated risk and built for a tsunami from a strong earth quake. They took the risk that a stronger one was unlikely. The town was completely wiped out. Was that the judgement of God? No. They took a calculated risk and lost.The Tsunami of 2004 wiped out villages along the beaches of Sri Lanka. The original regulation was to rebuild on higher ground back from the beaches. Well, land ownership issues make that difficult so what is happening? People are rebuilding along the beaches and if another tsunami comes will be wiped out again. Is that the judgement of God? No. It is the result of custom, corruption and poverty preventing people from rebuilding in safe areas.
Poor farmers working the flood plains of Bangladesh regularly get flooded out. Is that the judgement of God? The flood plains are fertile and productive. They are the best places to farm. Money has been given to build concrete safe houses as protection when the floods do come but only a few have been built as the majority of the money sinks into the black holes of official greed and corruption. So the poor continue to suffer as the floods continue to come.
Why did the recent earthquakes in Pakistan and China result in a generation of school children being wiped out? The earth shook when the children were in school. The schools were mostly poured concrete frame with precast concrete slab roofs. The engineers, contractors and local officials know they need to build to withstand the earth quakes that are common to those areas. However, corrupt contractors and local officials placed concrete that was mostly sand and water. They stole the cement and reinforcing steel. When the earth shook the supporting structure crumbled like the sand it was and the precast ceiling/floor slabs came down crushing the students at their desks. And some would blame God for that?
Jesus places us all under the same judgement- “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”. Why? God has judged all things in His Son and committed all judgement to the Son. The nations are no longer under the judgement of the law but under wisdom and grace through the Son.
What about prophesy? In the New Testament when the prophets foretold a famine (Acts 11:27- 30) the disciples “each according to his ability determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.” They acted. They did not talk about Judea being judged and then gloat about how accurate their word was. They acted. They sacrificed. They served.
Yes, Jesus talked about wars, disasters and tragedy but he said that these were birth pangs of the age to come. He did not call them judgements. Paul also spoke of birth pangs in Romans 8:22. What is being birthed? The Kingdom of God. Each disaster, each groaning gives opportunity to serve, to demonstrate the compassion of the body of Christ and to bring His Kingdom.