Locusts, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, viruses and plagues – how do we make sense of natural disasters that cause damage on a massive scale?
On 9 February 2020, Business Insider reported that a swarm of locusts forced Somalia to declare a national emergency. They call it Africa’s worst locust plague in decades, and it has developed into a natural disaster of biblical proportion.
On 22nd February 2011 the world was shocked to discover that another earthquake had hit New Zealand, this time in Christchurch. This was in the wake of the September 2010 Canterbury earthquake from which the country was still trying to recover. The second time, however, the damage was far worse with hundreds of people killed or injured and historic landmark buildings destroyed or seriously damaged. This happened while the memory of the Chile disaster was still fresh in our minds with people still talking or joking about it.
In Australia there has been the ongoing flooding and dramatic bush fires that left thousands of people homeless while causing billions of dollars worth of damage, not to mention the long-term effect these disasters will have on that nation.
Perhaps one of the biggest shockers of all disasters over the last decade was the 8.9M earthquake in the sea which caused a major tsunami to hit the coast of Japan, killing thousands of people in a matter of minutes. This happened in a matter of week in the wake of the Christchurch incident.
Sentiment Around The World
Back in 2011 just before the Japan tsunami hit, right after I heard about the second earthquake in Christchurch, I went to news.com.au to hear what was happening. Immediately this- and other news websites, including social websites, were inundated with comments from Christians, Atheists, Agnostics and people from many other religious groups. Some were asking why this happened, others wanted to know where God was in all of this, and others were fuming against God for allowing this to happen. Some made use of the opportunity to mock those who believed that there is a God and who offered their prayers, while others were saying that it had nothing to do with God at all.
The chatter after the tsunami hit Japan, was even worse.
Understandably we are upset, confused or outraged about all the disasters and calamity that takes lives or cause damage on a massive scale. Even if you are not directly affected by these particular incidents, there is no denying that the loss of human life – especially of this magnitude – is very upsetting. It also has a domino effect all over the world where the economy is concerned, together with the growing concern about the state of the earth and what the future might hold. This is especially concerning in the light of all the talk about Polar Shifts, Solar Storms, Global Warming and the Return of Planet X to mention only a few.
We are trapped on this planet with nowhere else to go. We were born here, and everybody dies here.
While I’m not going to claim that I have a definite answer for the things that are happening in these disturbing times, I would like to offer some viewpoints and insights that many are not considering. However, before we dive into that, let’s ponder for a moment other types of disasters that we are facing but to which a blind eye is turned. This will also help to bring the current events into a greater perspective.
Tragedies That Happen Every Day
Worldwide, almost a billion people go hungry every year with approximately 925 million people in 2010, and around 820 million people in 2019. There are many organisations who are trying to address this problem and bring relief to the people affected by this, although it seems like their efforts are not nearly enough. Many of us who are not affected by this usually have little compassion for those suffering from famine in those countries, as we are physically and emotionally removed from the situation.
In the 2016/17 year, the rate of murders in South Africa increased to 52 a day, with 19 016 murders recorded between April 2016 and March 2017. The latest statistic is that around 57 people are murdered in South Africa every day.
Then there is the death of 150 000 people who die every day from “natural” causes. When the 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit, an approximate 230 000 people were killed. We were shocked and rightly so. However, if you were to calculate the number of people who died since then and January 2011, within only a six-year period you end up with a figure of over 328 500 000 deaths. These deaths are mainly caused by Heart Disease, Cancer, Strokes, Accidents and Diabetes, to name a few.
Somehow, we have been desensitised and have come to learn how to cope with these tragedies happening on a daily basis. The big difference between Natural Disasters – “Acts of God,” as insurance companies like to call them – and other types of death is that a Natural Disaster is something unexpected and completely out of our control.
If someone gets killed by a robber, we can say they didn’t provide adequate protection; if they are killed by a car crash we can still argue that they didn’t drive careful enough or didn’t have a safe enough car; if they are killed by a heart attack or cancer we can blame diet, a weak immune system or whatever… but it is more difficult when we can’t make sense of something like a natural disaster, especially where the hand of a potentially loving or loveless God could be involved.
First of all I would like to highlight the very important fact that there are always those who make use of the opportunity to say that God is cruel or that there is no God, while at the same time there are often hundreds if not thousands of testimonies of people who will testify of how they were spared from the calamity by some divine intervention.
When the Twin Towers fell in New York on 11 September 2001, there were testimonies upon testimonies from people who escaped the tragedy in supernatural or unexplained ways, or who were miraculously saved while in the midst of everything. If you search the internet for these reports, you will find many.
Amongst others, there is a testimony of a man who was on the same level of the building that one of the planes smashed into. He saw the plane through the window coming straight at him. He tells of how he immediately prayed for protection and how the plane miraculously smashed into the wall a few feet away from him without injuring him at all. The next incredible thing was that he had to punch his way through a wall and he tells of how God gave him supernatural strength to do so. Even though he was on the same level as where the plane had hit – about sixty stories high – he was still able to make his way out of the building and escape with his life without any serious injuries.
There are also testimonies from Christians who say that they heard the voice of God, showing them how to escape from the calamity. Other Christians tell of how family members in other parts of the country or world woke up in the middle of the night to pray, and how these prayers helped them to survive amidst the crashing building against all odds.
In another report we read about more than one hundred members of a New York church who all worked at the World Trade Centre. They all say that they had a strong conviction not to go to work that day. It is what some would call a sixth sense, or what Christians would call a clear warning in their spirit from God. Other reports include wake-up alarms not going off in time, traffic jams and all other sorts of delays or diversions causing people to be late for work or having to cancel meetings and appointments for that day at the World Trade Centre.
Based on testimonies like these, the notion that there is no God doesn’t really carry any weight. Although some might then still argue that God is cruel for still allowing something like this to happen, it doesn’t really carry any weight either as it is clear that there are those who were spared by such incredible and supernatural means that one can only conclude that it was actually a genuine love for these people from a supernatural God that moved Him to go to such incredible lengths to save these people from what was happening or going to happen.
The question that we are left with then is, why did only some escape while others didn’t?
Similar Stories From The Bible
Regardless of whether you believe the Bible is true or not, amazingly there are stories which coincide with some of the reports received by Christians who were in the midst of these disasters but miraculously managed to escape.
One such story is the story of Rahab found in the book of Joshua in chapters 2 and 6. The city of Jericho came crashing down with only the house of Rahab standing amidst all the destruction.
In Genesis 19 we read about how the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, and how Lot was supernaturally guided and warned beforehand so that he could escape the destruction that fell on that land.
In Numbers 16 we read about the earth that had opened up in the midst of all the Israelites but swallowed only a certain man called Korah, together with all those associated with him.
We all know the story of Noah, how he and his household were the only people to escape a flood that wiped out all the peoples of the earth.
These are only a few examples while many more similar events were recorded in the Bible. If you were to study each case, you will see that the destruction came as a result of judgement that was poured out because of the sin and inequities of the people of the city, the land or the earth. You will also see that those who escaped were those who had turned from their wicked ways.
The Bible tells us that Rahab was spared because she turned her faith to the Lord of Israel; Lot was spared because he was the only person not involved in all the wicked practices of the land. Korah was swallowed up by the earth because of violent rebellion against the God of Israel; Noah was saved because of his faithfulness to the Lord – he refused to partake in the evil practices of his generation and as a result he received divine inspiration and foreknowledge, which enabled him to build the ark that saved them.
The End Times
The Bible declares that there will come a time again like the time of Noah – a time when wickedness will rule and people will abandon the moral law to which our conscience is a witness. It doesn’t take a genius to see that we are living in that time.
Drive through any neighbourhood in a country like South Africa and look at the types of security that most houses have.
Take movies and their age restrictions from the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s, and compare them to the movies with their age restrictions today. The sex, violence, nudity and language have become completely unashamed, with the “allowable audience” younger than ever before.
When I was in school in the 80’s and 90’s, only a handful of children were sleeping around. Today, however, there are reports of children as young as 6 or 7, offering their “services” for money.
In South Africa alone, 2010 recorded around 5 000 teen pregnancies. Murder and theft are at all time highs all over the world, and corruption is even witnessed (and tolerated) on a government level.
Just in the United States alone, approximately 125 000 abortions are performed, every day!
Yes, these are like the days of Noah. And if this is not enough to convince anyone, then consider the words of Jesus concerning the last days: “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” Luke 21:25-26.
I also believe we are experiencing what Jesus warned would happen in the End Times. Jesus said in Matthew 24:7-8 “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.”
Between 11 March 2011 and 10 April 2011, there were a total of 937 quakes and aftershocks in the Japan region alone. Between 22 February 2011 and 10 April 2011, Christchurch experienced 1 286 quakes and aftershocks. I remember reading about over 14 000 quakes on just one fault line that runs under the Atlantic.
In 2 Peter 3, it is written that there will be scoffers and scorners saying that everything has always been the same way – even though we can scientifically show how earthquakes have increased over the last few centuries. And yet, what we see happening in the earth today are birth pangs – a foreshadow of things to come.
In the very near future, God’s full wrath is going to be poured out all over the earth. 2 Peter 3 warns that like in the days of Noah, people will continue in their wicked ways ignoring all the signs; ignoring the warnings; ignoring the chance to escape the wrath to come.
Could Natural Disasters Be A Sign Of God’s Wrath?
So, in the midst of all the chaos in the world, how do we make sense of these “natural” disasters?
One way to look at it is to compare it to your average justice system. For example, while the law might threaten to punish speedsters severely, the number of cases where drivers exceed the speed limit would still increase unless we can see that there are definite consequences to our law-breaking actions.
Korah, as mentioned earlier, was made an example of what would happen when the Israelites rebelled against God; in the book of Acts a husband and wife died because they told a lie; Jonah told the city of Nineveh that they would be destroyed because of their sin, but was spared when they repented – until later generations forgot about the warning and dived right back into their sinful ways, and then destruction did come.
When the Twin Towers fell, when the tsunamis hit, when the buildings shook, I can’t help but see that God is showing us that He means business – that He was serious when He said that unless you repent you will perish.
Another way to make sense of this is to understand how humans operate. Our biggest downfall is usually pride. We are too proud to admit that we have made mistakes. We are too proud to admit that the evil and sin we allow in our lives are destroying us individually and as a nation.
As a result we are stubborn in our ways, insisting that all religions lead to God. We insist that our own doctrine is correct, instead of measuring it up with the Bible which has been able to withstand every test of time. We feel on top of the world, totally focused on our own selves. That is, until the towers fall and the icon of our success is destroyed; until disaster strikes leaving thousands dead or homeless.
It is when these things happen that our pride is broken down, and all that is left is to cry out to a God which we previously ignored.
Sometimes it could be a personal crisis in our own lives, sometimes it could be on a massive scale as we are experiencing in these perilous times. Regardless of which it is, there is no denying that it is during these times when everybody wants more than just the comfort of a friend. Natural disasters – including trauma from everyday life – are so tragic, only a divine connection with an unseen God can bring true comfort and peace.
A peace that surpasses all human understanding, as the Bible speaks of.
God’s Megaphone To A Deaf World
C.S. Lewis said,
Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
When we are confronted with the reality of pain and suffering in this world, maybe we should consider that it is God’s megaphone, begging for the attention of a world that is on her way to perdition.
When we reflect upon God’s Moral Law, we should see that we are not such good people as we often like to think ourselves to be and in danger of possible judgement. The Bible declares that if you have ever told a lie, or if you ever stole something, or if you ever committed adultery (in thought or in deed), or if you ever killed someone (in thought or in deed), or if you broke any of God’s Moral Law, then there is the danger of eternal damnation and punishment unless you make right with God before it is too late.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Revelation 21:8 says all liars will burn in the lake of fire, and no thief shall inherit the kingdom of God… unless you are able to escape the judgement to come through the only means provided (see Why Jesus Said He Is The Only Way).
People make the mistake of thinking that a good God will oversee their sins. That is like saying a good judge will overlook the offenses of criminals. Because we rely on the goodness of a judge, we can trust that justice will be served when someone breaks a country’s law.
In a similar way, it is because of the goodness of God that all who have sinned abide under his wrath; but it is also because of the goodness of God that He paid the fine Himself on the cross 2,000 years go – for our sake and on our behalf – because He didn’t want anyone of us to have to pay it perish and to have to pay the fine ourselves.
America begged for God to be “removed” from the public school systems and from television etc., but when the Twin Towers fell they couldn’t understand why God would allow such a thing to happen. Japan, along with most of the eastern nations, has rejected the God of the Bible and persecuted the Church for centuries. Should there still be any confusion as to why such a tragedy as the recent tsunami could hit that nation?
People were asking why one of the historical landmark buildings in Christchurch, the Christchurch Cathedral, was severely damaged too. Well, when the cathedral escaped destruction during the 2010 earthquake, the Reverend Peter Beck, Dean of Christchurch was telling stuff.co.nz:
My thanks go to council for all that earthquake strengthening work. Without that we would have had major damage.
I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he gave God the glory and honour instead of putting his trust in the structural improvements that were made by human hands, because during the second earthquake the cathedral wasn’t so “lucky” again.
It reminds me of 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 where God said, “If I shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or if I command locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence and plague among My people, 14 and My people, who are called by My Name, humble themselves, and pray and seek (crave, require as a necessity) My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear [them] from heaven, and forgive their sin and heal their land.“
Hope In The Storm
However, in the midst of all the chaos there is hope. This is the time when those who have been enlightened with the truth about God’s love and justice system must reach out to those in need – and in desperate need they are!
After Jesus had paid such an incredible price on our behalf to which we are eternally grateful, He said that we should share this Good News with the whole world. I am shocked when I see how many “Christians” are not embracing this call. When we don’t, we are like fire fighters who are unwilling to save those trapped in the consuming flames of a building. However, the distress and agony that people find themselves in when disaster strikes is nothing compared to what an eternity in hell will be like.
While reading about the reports from people who survived the Twin Tower attack, I read about one woman who was able to share her faith during the crisis amidst all the destruction around them. People were open to the Gospel and asked God to forgive them for their sins after she told them what Jesus had done for them. People were making right with God, while the building was crashing all around them!
As someone once said, there are no atheists during severe turbulence.
Hebrews 9:27 says it is appointed for a man to die, and then judgement comes. These times we live in are a stern reminder that we all have an appointment with death and that we should be ready to meet our Maker.
When people stare death in the face, it is sometimes the only time when they are willing to face the reality of the afterlife. If you are a Christian reading this, I beg you to take the Great Commission to heart and to be willing to share the message of what Jesus has done for us – especially during these perilous times of uncertainty.
Jesus is coming back soon, and we need to do our part before the door is finally closed.
If you are a Christian who struggles with sharing your faith, I encourage you to get my books called How To Evangelise Effectively and Why Jesus Said He Is The Only Way. These are great resources to learn how to become an effective witness.