by R. Scott Pace

As we have recently witnessed the tragic devastation in Japan resulting from one of the strongest earthquakes in world history, we are confronted with the question of why natural disasters occur?
If God loves us, what explanation can be given for earthquakes, tsunamis and other destructive forces of nature and how should we view them? Of course, the church must turn to God’s infallible Word in order to reconcile how a loving God Who is sovereign and omnipotent (all-powerful) could allow these disasters to occur.

The Bible gives us three principles for how we should view natural disasters.

• 1. Natural Disasters result from Man’s original sin.

Through the sin of Adam when he rejected God’s plan for his life, we know that sin entered the world and condemns all mankind of sin’s guilt (Rom. 5:12). But as God gave Adam rule over His creation (Gen. 1:28-30), “creation was subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:20) and Adam’s sin resulted in the corruption of God’s creation. While Christ’s death on the cross is mankind’s redemption for those who “receive the abundance of grace” (Rom. 5:17), creation “waits eagerly” with “anxious longing” (Rom. 8:19) for its redemption “from its slavery to corruption” (Rom. 8:21).

This is not limited to portions of God’s creation, but “the whole creation groans and suffers” (Rom. 8:22). Just as we still struggle against the sin nature that remains, creation continues to fight against the corruptive effects of sin, looking forward to Christ’s establishment of a “new Heaven and a new Earth” (Rev. 21:1-6, 2 Pet. 3:10,13). Until then, natural disasters can be an expected part of our lives.

• 2. Natural Disasters reflect God’s judgment of sin.

Throughout the Scriptures, God used His sovereignty over His creation to enact His judgment of sin. The flood (Gen. 6-8), Sodom’s destruction (Gen. 19), Jonah and the great fish (Jonah), all point to God’s response to sin. Certainly, the plagues of Egypt (Ex. 7-11) and many other Scriptural accounts indicate God’s power over His creation and His use of this to judge sin. In the Gospel accounts, we see Christ’s power over “the winds and sea” (Matt. 8:27) and other aspects of nature (Matt. 17:27), so we can be assured of God’s continued ability to reign over His creation, even though He has given control to man, his sin and Satan himself (Eph. 6:12, John 16:11). Although we cannot know if the destruction from natural disasters is God’s judgment of a specific sin, we do know that God included nature in His judgment for original sin (Gen. 3:17-18), and we can be reminded of His hatred of sin and His promised judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).

• 3. Natural Disasters remind us of Christ’s return.

Before Christ died, was resurrected and ascended into Heaven, He promised His return (Jn. 14:1-3). But as He foretold of the end-times to His disciples, He spoke of those things that would signify His coming. Along with false prophets, wars, plagues, famines and earthquakes (Luke 21:8-11), which are prevalent in our world today, Jesus promised “terrors and great signs from Heaven” (v.11). In Matthew’s parallel account, Jesus referred to the natural signs as “the beginning of birth pangs” (Matt. 24:8), much like Paul referred to creation’s groaning and suffering from “the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom. 8:22). Although we cannot know the day, hour or place in eternity of Christ’s return (Matt. 24:36), we can be assured that sin’s effect on creation climaxes towards His coming again. The occurrence of natural disasters reminds us of the immanence of His return, our need to be prepared (Matt. 25:44) and the eagerness with which we are to wait (2 Tim. 4:8).

Although these principles give us insight into the occurrence of natural disasters, we also have the responsibility to ask the practical question of how we should prepare, endure and respond to them. There are at least four ways to biblically respond to such tragedy.

• 1. Pray for those affected.

The tragedy of lives lost and homes destroyed should drive us to our knees in prayer for all of those affected by natural disasters. We pray for God to use the tragic circumstances to accomplish His good, perfect and pleasing will (Rom. 8:28). But we also must pray for God’s comfort and peace to embrace the hearts and lives of the many families, homes, churches and individuals who are searching for comfort during this difficult time (Phil. 4:6-7).

• 2. Position your life on God’s Word.

Jesus promised that “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). As the temporal value of this life and Earth is seen through the destruction of a natural disaster, we must continue to establish our lives on that which endures forever, the Word of the Lord (1 Pet. 1:23-25). “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24-25)

• 3. Prepare for Christ’s Return.

Being prepared for Christ’s return involves assurance of faith in Christ and living a life that is pleasing to Him “so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (1 John 2:28).

• 4. Propagate our faith.

In light of Christ’s immanent return, we should recognize the condition of the lost souls around us and across the world, resulting in the sharing of our faith with urgency (Matt. 28:18-20). But also, with the physical needs around us in the wake of a natural disaster, we must be faithful to share the love and compassion of Christ as we minister to the physical and the spiritual needs in His name. This involves understanding that these disasters “lead to an opportunity for your testimony” (Luke 21:13) and we must make the “most of each opportunity” (Col. 4:5).

R. Scott Pace is the Jewell and Joe L. Huitt assistant professor of applied ministry in the Joe L. Ingram School of Christian Service at Oklahoma Baptist University.