You Asked for It 2005 - Part 1
Natural Disasters or Acts of God
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
August 7, 2005

 

Main Passage: Psalm 46:1-11 (NLT)

 

Seven and a half months ago (Dec. 26, 2004), a Tsunami hit eleven countries in Southern Asia leaving 225,000 people dead or missing. It was the highest fatality count in recorded history for a tsunami, surpassing an 1896 tsunami in Japan which killed a mere 27,000 people by comparison.

But while this disaster captured our hearts and is still fresh in our minds, it is only one of thousands of disasters throughout history. Some causing even more damage and taking even more lives. Here are just a few…

  • Way back in 1201 in the Mediterranean, the deadliest earthquake in history killed approximately 1.1 million people in Egypt and Syria.

  • In 1970, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Peru, causing a rock and snow avalanche that buried 2 towns, killing as many as 20,000 people.

  • That same year (1970), Bangladesh lost more than 300,000 people from flooding. A similar event there claimed 130,000 lives in 1991.

  • In 1978, a flood in India left 15 million people homeless.

  • As recent as 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated much of Central America leaving more than 10,000 people killed, and some 2 million were left homeless as mudslides swept away whole villages.

  • In the mid 1980s, a drought in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa resulted in half a million people dying of starvation.

  • A volcanic eruption on an Indonesian island in 1815 killed than 90,000 people.

  • You may recall Hurricane Andrew which hit Florida in August of 1992. It claimed relatively few lives, but caused over $15 billion in damages.
     

But I don’t think anyplace has been hit as hard and as often as China. Or maybe it’s just their highly concentrated population. But as I was researching disasters this week, the name China came up a lot. Just in the past 100 years, they’ve been devastated several times.

  • Massive flooding in 1931 caused more than 3 million deaths.

  • The floods in 1938 and 1939 killed 1 million people in China.

  • In 1950, about 900,000 dwellings were flooded in eastern China. What made matters worse was the 3.5 million acres that were destroyed for the rest of the harvest season.

  • In July 1959, massive floods killed at least 2 million people.

  • In 1976, an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 struck China killing 255,000 people.

  • A famine that lasted from 1958 to 1961 resulted in roughly 40 million Chinese perishing due to starvation. Understand, that’s more than the population of Canada.
     

Speaking of Canada, we actually feel quite sheltered here from these forces of nature. Well, I’m not here to scare you, but we get hit with our fair share, too. Let’s work our way through the last 10 years…

  • 1995 - Forest fires in Saskatchewan displaced 2,500 people. Sixteen thousand square kilometres of forest were burned at an estimated cost of over $91 million.

  • 1996 – Flooding in both Alberta and Quebec killed 10 people and displaced over 16,000, causing well over $1 billion in damages.

  • 1996 - Tornados in Ontario left nine injured, and cost an estimated $12 million.

  • May 1997 - The flooding of the Red River in Manitoba forced 25,000 people from their homes. The estimated cost of the disaster was $817 million.

  • January, 1998 - An ice storm hit Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick leaving 28 people dead and 945 injured, and forcing 600,000 from their homes. Over 1.2 million homes in Quebec and 250,000 in Ontario lost power. The cost? An estimated $5 billion.

  • July 1999 - A tornado in Drummondville, Quebec, left one dead and four injured; 200 were forced from their homes. The estimated cost is between $30 million and $43 million.

  • 1999 - A forest fire in Saskatchewan forced out 1,500 people.

  • July 2000 - A tornado in Pine Lake, Alberta, left 12 dead and 140 injured; 1,000 people were displaced. The estimated cost of the disaster was over $30 million.

  • May-June 2002 - Forest fires in northern Alberta forced out 1,550 people. Over 1,000 firefighters worked to contain the fire, which burned nearly 250,000 hectares. The estimated cost was $22.1 million.

  • Summer 2003 - Fire hit southeastern B.C. and southwestern Alberta. Fifty thousand people were forced from their homes and firefighting costs alone reached $400 million.

  • You may remember Sept. 29, 2003 - Hurricane Juan hit Halifax and Charlottetown. The Category 2 hurricane killed eight people and resulted in $113 million in payouts to repair the damage.

  • July 15, 2004 - Floods in Ontario affected over 4,000 homes and caused damages estimated at up to $92 million.

  • July 2004 - Edmonton survived floods and a hailstorm that cost over $180 million.

  • June 2005 - Manitoba and Alberta experienced severe flooding. Costs and insurance estimates not yet known.
     

So disasters are a part of life. Everyone of us here has been affected by a disaster to one degree or another. But why? Why do they happen? Why does God allow them? I mean, if He’s so good and if He’s so powerful, why doesn’t He just prevent them from happening?

That’s a good question. And it’s an old question. Three hundred years before Jesus was born, the Greek philosopher Epicurus expressed the dilemma this way…

From Epicurus (342-270 B.C.):
If God wants to prevent evil, but can’t – God is not all-powerful.
If God is powerful enough to prevent evil, but won’t – God is not all-loving.
If God neither can nor desires to prevent evil – He is not divinity.
If God can and desires to prevent evil – Why then is there evil in this world?

That’s the question we’re going to address here this morning. And in particular, we’re going to talk about Natural Disasters. There are lots of other disasters of our own making, and the short answer for why they occur is “Free Will.” God gave us the Free Will to make choices, and those choices have consequences. But what about those so called Natural Disasters where there’s on one apparently at fault?

 

Why do Natural Disasters Occur?

A. Sin has corrupted all of Creation.

In God’s original Creation of this world, I do not believe natural disasters were natural. They just didn’t happen. All of Creation was in perfect balance… there were no earthquakes or volcanoes or tornadoes or Tsunamis or floods. God created everything, looked at it, and was pleased with it.

Genesis 1:31 (NLT)
Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was excellent in every way.

But then something happened. The first people he had created… Adam and Eve… rebelled against Him. And when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and thus sinned against Him, sin didn’t just enter humanity… it entered all of Creation and corrupted it. God explained this to Adam…

Genesis 3:17-18 (NLT)
And to Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate the fruit I told you not to eat, I have placed a curse on the ground. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you…”

So sin entered all of Creation. What is sin, anyway? Sin is a corruption of what God intended. So when sin entered creation, it corrupted the perfect balance of nature and threw it into turmoil.

So first and foremost, bad things happen… disasters happen… because of sin. It can all be traced back to disobedience in the Garden of Eden. If sin had never entered the world, then these disasters would never occur. But it did, and they do. Because of sin, the potential for disasters exists. These next three reasons I’m going to give you are only true because this first reason is true. Disasters happen because sin has corrupted all of creation.

 

B. Satan can cause disasters.

There’s a misconception going around these days even in church circles that Satan is not real. Some people, even leaders in the Church, claim that “Satan” is only a personification of evil. They would say that there is no one being called Satan… Satan is simply the collective term we use to refer to evil and temptation and sinfulness.

I have a theory that we’ve stopped believing he exists because we’ve made a cartoon out of him. I mean, what’s our popular depiction of Satan? We picture him as a bumbling character complete with red leotards and a pitchfork. That’s a depiction right out of the Middle Ages, and it only makes us underestimate the danger he represents.

But the Bible describes Satan as a real being, and a powerful one at that. He was an angel created by God who rebelled against God. He thought he could overthrow God, but soon discovered that he was no match for the All-powerful Creator. In fact, the Bible tells us that Hell was created as the eternal destiny of Satan and all the other angels who followed him in his rebellion. Hell was never intended for humans. But those of us who continue to reject the love and forgiveness Christ offered us on the cross have by default chosen Hell for ourselves, too.

So who is this Satan? Well, as I said, he was an angel who staged a revolt against God. He was defeated, but now he’s set on taking as many of us with him as he can. He tempts us just like he tempted Jesus. He deceives us. He’s a liar. He tries to lead us away from the Truth and away from God. He tries to disguise our need for forgiveness and distract us from establishing a relationship with God. And he also creates all kinds of trouble and upheaval, including disasters.

Job 1:9-12, 19 (NLT)
Satan replied to the LORD, “Yes, Job fears God, but not without good reason! You have always protected him and his home and his property from harm. You have made him prosperous in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!”
“All right, you may test him,” the LORD said to Satan…
[A messenger tells Job:] “Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the desert and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead.”

Satan created a windstorm to destroy the house. So Satan can and does cause disasters. But there’s something very important you need to notice in that passage. What did Satan have to do first? He had to get God’s permission. With God protecting Job, Satan couldn’t do a thing to him. He had to ask God to remove that protection first. And God complied. Why? We’ll get to that in a few minutes.

But we can see in this passage without any confusion that Satan does cause some disasters to strike. But you know what? There are very few examples in the Bible of Satan causing natural disasters. In fact, this was the only one I could find. Much more often, God Himself is charged with causing natural disasters.

 

C. God can cause disasters.

I think the prevailing image of God that we have in modern society is this: we picture Him as a gentle, silver haired, old man. We focus on His love, on His kindness, on His tenderness… and we forget that He’s also a God who brings justice and punishment and trepidation. We’ve lost our fear… our “holy awe”… of who He is.

But the truth is, God can and has caused several natural disasters. Or I suppose if He caused them, they weren’t all that natural. They really were acts of God. And He has caused these disasters for a variety of reasons. Let me list some of them for you…
 

Why Would God Cause a Disaster?

  • To punish sinfulness.

    Remember, God is a God of mercy and of justice. His mercy is shown by the fact that He holds back from punishing us for our sinfulness as long as possible. But there comes a time when justice needs to be served. And there are frequent examples in Scripture where God used disasters to punish sinfulness…

    o The world was flooded to destroy a corrupt society and begin again with Noah. (Genesis 6-8)
    o Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for their immorality. (Genesis 19)
    o Egypt suffered plagues because of their mistreatment of the Israelites. (Exodus 7-11)
    o The ground opened up and swallowed the Israelites who rebelled against Moses. (Numbers 16)
    o Nineveh was warned by Jonah that God would destroy them unless they repented. (Jonah 1-3)

    I read an interesting theory this week by Henry Blackaby. Henry Blackaby is the author of the international best-selling book, Experiencing God. And he pointed out an interesting comparison between the countries where Christians are persecuted the most and where the Tsunami hit last December.

    You see, there are over 400,000 Christians martyred for their faith every year, and many of those killings take place in the countries hit by the Tsunami. Is that a coincidence or is that God’s judgment? I don’t know. I’m inclined to say it was a coincidence, but the record does clearly state that God uses disasters as a means of punishing sinfulness.
     

  • To direct us to spiritual things.

    So many things in life… even good things… clamour for our attention. And God ends up being left out in the cold. He gets lost in the shuffle. But from your own experience, what happens when you endure a disaster? The people who were interviewed after the Tsunami… what kinds of things did they say?

    Many of the people interviewed talked about similar things. They talked about their heightened awareness of their own mortality. They were reminded about what was really important in life. Many people were forced to reflect on their soul condition. They were motivated to get their lives straightened out and get right with God.

    Think about Jonah, the prophet. He was running from God and boarded a ship heading in the complete opposite direction from where God has directed him. So what did God do? He sent a storm. And how did the people on the ship respond? They prayed to their gods. They didn’t know the one true God, but they were at least thinking about spiritual things.

    Jonah 1:6 (NLT)
    So the captain went down after [Jonah]. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will have mercy on us and spare our lives.”

    Or how about the disciples? There are a couple of times when they were out on the Sea of Galilee and a storm arose, threatening to capsize them. The Bible doesn’t specifically say that Jesus created the storms, but He certainly used them to teach His disciples about His authority over the wind and the waves and to teach them to place their faith in Him. The storm forced them to think about spiritual things.

    Now, it may sound like a rather extreme measure for God to send a disaster to get people to repent, but consider the alternative. Any present pain is insignificant when contrasted with an eternity in Hell. So God’s getting your attention by any means necessary can be seen as a great act of mercy, regardless of how He has to do it.

    “Pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.”
    ~ C.S. Lewis
     

  • To test and strengthen our faith.

    As a wise man once said, “No pain, no gain.” The trials of life actually help you grow. They help you grow and develop as a person; they help you grow and develop as a Christian. Growing pains are uncomfortable, they can be torturous, but they are necessary.

    James 1:2-4 (NLT)
    Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.

    Again, think about Job. Satan wanted to attack Job with all kinds of disasters. And God allowed him. Why? Because God knew that Job could handle it. He knew that the testing of Job would result in character and maturity in Job.

    The testing of our faith is never pleasant. But the results are well worth it.

    James 1:12 (NIV)
    Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

 

Now for my catch-all. Yes, disasters are a reality because of sinfulness. And yes, both Satan and God can and have caused disasters to strike. But there are also times when things just happen. There are laws of nature created by God that must be followed, and so sometimes these laws themselves lead to the disasters.

 

D. Laws of Nature can cause disasters.

Think about gravity. (I know, that’s a pretty heavy subject. I don’t like thinking about it too much because it just drags me down. Although it does keep me grounded.)

Did anybody watch the space-walk this week? It was fascinating, watching the astronaut in space. Just this guy out there in a spacesuit, tethered to the space arm, out for a spacewalk, to repair the space shuttle. Meanwhile, there was another astronaut inside the shuttle controlling the arm. And if you watched it and you listened to the dialogue between the two of them, it was interesting how they communicated. Think about it: you’re out in space, it’s a gravity-free environment, up and down holds no meaning. The astronaut out on the space walk had to give instructions to the astronaut inside controlling the arm as to where to position him, but he couldn’t say “move up” or “move down” because those terms don’t mean anything in space. Instead, he had to give instructions like, “Move me to my feet.”

It was a remarkable accomplishment to get out and repair the shuttle in space. But it was also a long, tedious procedure. And very dangerous. We simply couldn’t function in that kind of an environment on earth. We need gravity. It’s a good thing.

But that very same gravity can lead to disasters. Jesus Himself talked about this in Luke 13. Some people were trying to build a case that bad things only happen to bad people, and Jesus explained that sometimes bad things happen to all people. To prove His point, He asked them…

Luke 13:4-5 (NLT)
“And what about the eighteen men who died when the Tower of Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will also perish.”

You know, sometimes bad things happen because bad things happen. Think about the Southeastern U.S. It seems every August and September, they get pounded by hurricanes. Why? Is that the most immoral section of North America? I doubt it. It’s just the way the weather operates.

There are climate shifts, hot fronts meeting cold fronts, subterranean buildups, sudden displacements of water, solar flares… they can all scientifically lead to a natural disaster. Hey, maybe even the butterfly effect is a valid theory… a butterfly flapping its wings in Mexico may lead to a hurricane in the South Pacific.

Sometimes there are no other explanations for a natural disaster other than the fact that there are laws of nature that contributed to them.

1 Kings 19:11-12 (MSG)
Then [Elijah] was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before GOD. GOD will pass by.”
A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before GOD, but GOD wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but GOD wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but GOD wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.

In these verses, there was a hurricane, an earthquake, and a fire. Were they caused by Satan? Were they caused by God? No. They just happened.

 

So disasters are a part of life, and they can happen for a variety of reasons. But regardless of what causes them, we have deal with them. How should we respond when a disaster strikes? Whether it be a natural disaster like a Tsunami or Hurricane, or something like a plane-crash or terrorist attack. How do we respond?

 

How to Respond when Disaster Strikes:

1. Trust in God’s sovereignty.

Remember that ultimately God is in control. It may seem like the world’s in uproar, but He’s the one in charge.

Psalm 46:1-3 (NLT)
God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear, even if earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

Isaiah 43:1-2 (NLT)
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you.”

The God who loves you and orchestrates everything according to His purposes is with you.

 

2. Evaluate your soul condition.

Are you right before God? Or are there issues or habits in your life that need to be taken care of? And then take the appropriate action.

Again, think about Jonah. When he was running from God and got caught in the middle of a storm at sea, he was confronted with his own sinfulness. He admitted to the others that they were in the storm because of his disobedience. So they threw him overboard in order to save themselves. Then God sent a great fish to save Jonah.

Jonah 2:1-2, 7-8 (NLT)
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from inside the fish. He said, “I cried out to the LORD in my great trouble, and he answered me. I called to you from the world of the dead, and LORD, you heard me!
“When I had lost all hope, I turned my thoughts once more to the LORD. And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy Temple… For my salvation comes from the LORD alone.”

 

3. Intercede for the victims.

What does it mean to intercede? It means to plead on behalf of someone else. In this case, it means to pray fervently on behalf of others who are suffering. Pray for God’s grace and His comfort to be evident. Pray that He will bring good out of a seemingly hopeless situation. Pray that the situation will change for the better.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel turned away from God so God sent a drought, which lasted for three and a half years! For those of you familiar with the story, it was during the time when Ahab was hunting after the prophet Elijah, and it culminated when Elijah took on all the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. If you don’t know about it, you can read about it in 1 Kings 17-18.

Anyway, after three years of drought, we’re told that Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel, prayed fervently for it to rain again, and it poured down. He interceded for all the Israelites who were suffering from the drought.

[Read 1 Kings 18:41-46]

 

4. Seek to serve those in need.

Help out however you can. Now, I doubt you have the resources or the energy to contribute to the humanitarian effort after every disaster in the world, but give when you can and jump in where you can. Especially if there’s something local, you should be involved in the humanitarian effort. I think the Church should be on the frontlines of providing aide and showing compassion.

These verses are not specifically about dealing with disasters, but they are certainly applicable…

Psalm 112:6, 9 (NLT)
Those who are righteous will be long remembered.
They give generously to those in need.


Isaiah 58:7 (NLT)
I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

 

Well, there you have it. That’s why disasters happen and how you can respond. Of course we never want disasters to happen, natural or otherwise. But chances are they will. And when they do, you can remain strong in your faith in God, and you can be right there representing Christ in meeting the need.
 

 

 

 

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