Why does God allow natural Disasters?
There is no doubt that reading accounts of how people have been affected by famines, earthquakes, floods, Tsunamis, eruptions, epidemics, storms and landslides makes for harrowing reading.
It is almost impossible (at least for me) to not find yourself in tears as you read about families who are devastated and lives wrecked by events that are often so mind-bogglingly big that it’s just too much to take in.
For instance did you know that in 2005 in America Hurricane Katrina caused the deaths of more than 1,800 people.
It was a hurricane so powerful that it destroyed virtually everything in its path.
There was no running from winds reaching speeds of more than 125mph, and the destruction and flooding from it was terrible.
But as massive and heart breaking as that figure is, it pales next to the Tsunami of 2004 that hit countries around the Indian Ocean.
280,000 people died directly as a result of the wave and thousands more later because of disease, dehydration and malnutrition.
Stories of children left without parents, and parents left without children, abound, and it is really difficult to read them.
But that’s recent history.
The great flood of 1931 in china is estimated to have killed up to 4 million people.
A drought in China 1936 just four years later is said to have killed 5 million people.
And the Spanish flu epidemic (1918) killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.
Now the problem for me with all these figures is that it just gets beyond what I can take in.
And the danger is that as a very privileged and relatively sheltered westerner I can talk about these things in a very cold and detached way, or maybe even worse, in a passionate way as if I understand.
I of course was not in New Orleans, or Indonesia or China when these things happened.
I do not have to live with the loss of family or the direct consequences of these things in the lost of my home or livelihood.
So I just want to start out by saying I am trying to tread carefully, not wishing appear cold or callous or maybe worse giving the impression I have got it all sorted out and that I know all the answers.
I take immense comfort in the fact that I am not God, that I am not in control and that I don’t have to have all the answers.
I am also hugely encouraged that while God doesn’t tell me everything in the Bible he does tell us enough so that we can start to think about these things and start asking the right sort of questions.
Now as with last week, and perhaps even more so this week the amount of material is vast and my problem has been in condensing it down to something we can manage together in the time we have.
So you’ll have to forgive me for moving quite fast and also forgive me for not covering everything.
What I have done is pick out five key things the Bible says about natural disasters and death and then present them so we can at least start thinking about the issue.
So here we go:
!! Point 1 – All Death is a result of a world falling apart in rebellion against God
When God originally made the world, it was good and perfect.
In the original pattern there was no death for humanity.
But then Adam and Eve took a decision to reject God’s pattern and go their own way.
The results is a world that is suffering the consequences of that original decision.
Paul the apostle has this to say about the matter:
*Romans 5:12 ESV*
*12* … sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…
There we go in a nutshell: death is a result of sin and so because we live in a world where there is sin so we live in a world where there is death.
Don’t get all excited and jump up and down on your chair and think that I am saying that all the people who die in natural disasters are bad people who were swept away or burnt or buried alive because they did something awful, something worse than the rest of us, wait till I get to point three.
All I want to establish in this first point is something really simple.
Death for us in whatever shape or form it comes is *not* how it was when God first made us.
When he first made us things were very different.
There was no death in Eden.
Adam and Eve did not get old and die in Eden and they would not have been killed by natural disaster either.
But we don’t live in the Eden world any more.
That is not our world.
Our world is broken and spoilt and not as it should be and part of the results of that are natural disasters that bring terrible destruction.
Now I am aware that some take a slightly different line on that and suggest that natural disasters are part of the design of the planet and so they have always been with us.
On that point I am simply not sure, but I can say with confidence that before things went wrong in the fall (when Adam and Eve sinned) there was no death.
In the past when I’ve tried to explain this to people I’ve talked about the design plans for a detailed model or piece of engineering.
If you look at the plans they go on for pages and pages explaining how things fit together and how it works.
The problem comes when you try to do it without the plan; of course it all goes horribly wrong.
Well, God’s pattern and plan for this universe has been screwed up by us and that is why we live in a world that is messed up.
So again, the reason why there is death in the world is because of sin.
That covers all human death and not just some deaths.
If we don’t take that into account then we are going to have all sorts of problems coming to terms with how the universe functions and why things are as they are.
God lays it out clearly for us; death is here in the world because of sin.
That makes sin THE big issue, the thing that needs sorting out.
Without sin there would be no death, and so in order for death to be dealt with then sin needs to be dealt with somehow.
Second thing to say:
!! Point 2 – Natural Disasters Point to God’s Final Judgement
Now this is almost certainly the most controversial thing I will say this morning but I think it is important not to ignore what the Bible has to say about this.
There are a number of occasions when God tells us in his word that he brings disaster on people because of their sin.
The most obvious example of this is the flood of Genesis 6.
There God has reached the set limit of his patience against the world and so he says enough is enough I am going to act against these people, and he wipes them all out except Noah and his family.
That is an extreme example of natural disaster being used by God as judgement, but is by no means the only example.
As we will see in a moment that does not mean that every natural disaster is always a direct act of judgement by God against people.
But there are occasions in the Bible where he does judge people and nations by natural disasters.
I can’t ignore that and say it isn’t the case because it is.
But while we can’t really know for sure if a natural disaster is a specific judgement by God against people we can say for certain that natural disasters are one way that God warns us of a coming judgement and disaster that will be universal, terrible and unavoidable.
Now in 2005 Philip Jensen the dean of Sydney caused an absolute storm by suggesting that the Tsunami was a warning from God that judgement is coming.
I know that Philip Jensen is famous for making bold provocative statements (he is after all Australian) but I have to say that what he said is not nearly as shocking as other things he has said and merely echoes exactly what Jesus says about death and disaster.
Jesus says death in this world is a stark warning to us that we will all die and face God’s judgement.
If you want to hear something more on this point I am going to suggest you listen to Ben’s excellent sermon on Joel chapter 1. It’s on the church website on the sermons page and you’ll find it listed under June the 8th.
There Ben helpfully explains what Joel is about and rightly tells us that it is a warning of God’s coming judgement.
Joel 1 is not the only place in the Bible where such language is used and whether we like it or not we are foolish to ignore it.
Please listen to me:
There is a day coming when the destruction and ruin that God will bring will be terrible.
I don’t want you to be caught out by that, I don’t want you to be unprepared.
Disaster is coming and every time we read about, see, encounter death we are getting a warning siren blaring out at us “Be ready, you too are going to die and the judgement to come will be terrible”
The world for the most part thinks that’s mad.
It’s just crazy to believe in a God who is going to judge the world but I think the issue is that the world has redesigned God to be weak and pathetic.
As someone I was reading has said:
The two false ideas that i think is shared by a lot of people about God is that he: \\ 1) his love is such that he will bend to the whims of our desires - because god loves us he'll always give me what I think is good.
\\ 2) his love is such that regardless of how I behave - good or bad, towards him or other people in the world, he is still going to treat me favourably.
As much as we block our ears and shout “no no no” it wont change the fact of God’s coming judgement.
And all death is a wake up call to that.
That doesn’t mean I like it, and it certainly doesn’t mean I don’t feel for the people caught up in it, but I am silly to think that I can ignore the warning.
!! Point 3 – Death in Natural Disasters does not point to people being worse sinners
*Luke 13:1-4 ESV*
*13 *There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
*2* And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?
*3* No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
*4* Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?
We don’t know much about the historical situation here other than the fact that for some reason some people were killed, probably in the Temple, and their blood was either deliberately or as a consequence of fighting in the temple spread where the temple sacrifice blood was spilt.
Now it is most likely that Pilate is seen as the enemy here and as these people tell Jesus about this terrible atrocity they are expecting him to say something about the evil blasphemy of Pilate and his desecration of holy things.
How could he do such an evil thing?
What does it mean when such evil can be committed?
So the first part of the question here is about the evil acts of men in the world.
But connected to that is a second question.
What about these 18 who died when the tower fell on them in the southern part of the Jerusalem, the Siloam part?
Who is to blame there?
Who is guilty and who is innocent?