Where is God in Natural Disasters? (covid-19)

by W.J.A. Pijnacker Hordijk      vlag   

In the latest Promise Magazine we have published an article of Willem Jan Pijnacker Hordijk, titled: Where is God in natural disasters? Since this article deals with many questions that also have everything to do with the theme regarding the corona crisis, we want to make this article available to everyone.

Contents

  1. Theodicy
  2. God and natural disasters
  3. Are Christians immune to disasters?
  4. The mortal man
  5. The guilt question
  6. Do we have a right picture of God?
  7. Conclusion 
  1. Theodicy 

Even God-deniers raise their fists angrily, for how can God allow all these miseries that are daily poured out upon us through the news reports?

(Implicitly, the atheists do assume the existence of God.) The International Christian Aid Organization ZOA, made a top-ten-list of the worst humanitarian disasters. This shows that nine out of ten catastrophes were caused by human. Natural disasters are often environmental disasters. The massive cutting down of the tropical rainforest, for example, causes erosion, which further increases hunger and refugee flows. What remains in this quoted article is one of ten disasters that were not directly caused by humans, i.e. a real natural disaster, namely the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, which caused the death of about 200,000 people. 

In this article we will focus on this type of disaster. Where was and is God in natural disasters? Is He concerned about humanity in distress? Is God really in control? Do we really mean it when we sing songs like ‘The Lord reigns’ and ‘He’s got the whole world in His hand?’ How can a God be good when He allows catastrophes that are destructive to humans? Earthquakes can shake our faith. We are certainly not the first to think about this. The problem is called ‘theodicy’. A theodicy (from the classical Greek: Theos (God) and Dikè (law, justification): the "justification of God") is an argument that has to be a justification for (the faith in the existence of) a God who is both perfectly good and almighty, while there is still evil in the world (the problem of suffering). A theodicy makes an attempt to give a logical explanation of characteristics and facts. In the course of the history, different theodicies have been developed. This word comes from the Christian tradition. The heavy earthquake in Lisbon that destroyed this city in 1755 on a religious holiday, led many in Europe, especially the philosophers of the Illumination, to doubt the existence of a righteous God. The common thought about a theodicy could not be brought into agreement with the disaster. Can you trust God who allows a (natural) disaster, which He could prevent?

  1. God and natural disasters

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling.” (Ps. 46:2-3)

”Come, behold the works of the Lord, Who has made desolations in the earth.” (Ps. 46:8) (NKJV)

God arranges fantastic deliverances from all kinds of needs, but not always... Natural disasters have always been there, but the frequency is increasing frighteningly. Nowadays, records are being broken all the time in nature. Never so hot, wet, dry, early, etc. Jesus referred to wars, famines and earthquakes as birth pangs (sorrows) we have to go through (Mat.24:6-8). 

There are more than enough examples of painful “birth pangs” these days: floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, typhoons, drought, earth - and sea quakes, volcano eruptions, avalanches, forest fires, lightning strikes, grasshopper plagues, diseases like the swine flu, cholera, AIDS, SARS, Ebola, Corona virus, etc.

How small and futile one can feel with so much brutal violence. How vulnerable we are! But also what a shock when Christians come to realize that their faith in God is not an all-risk insurance. 

The following diagrams show God's involvement in natural disasters as mentioned in the Bible. These enumerations are not exhaustive.

NEGATIVE: Natural phenomena caused by God up to a judgment

Text

The Flood

Gen.6:17, Amos 9:6

Rain of sulfur and fire upon Sodom.

The turn of Sodom and Gomorra

Rushing rain, hailstones, fire and sulfur

Gen.19:24, Ps.11:6 Jer.49:18, Eze.38:22

The ten plagues in Egypt amongst others: fire, lightning, hail, grasshoppers, etc.

Exo.7-11,

Ps. 78:43-51

Deu.28:38, 42

The earth opened its mouth and all the enemies of Moses were buried alive.

Num.16:28-34

A bright fire from the sanctuary hit 250 men to death.

Num.16:35

God closed heaven in the time of Elijah, so it caused drought with famine. 

1Kgs.17:1

The Lord shall fight the enemies of Zion with thunder, earthquakes and an ear-deafening noise, with swirling storms and a consuming sea of flames.

Isa.29:6

Gog, an enemy of Israel will be destroyed by a heavy earthquake, the pestilence, torrential rains, hailstones, sulfur and fire

Eze.38:19-23

Stormy wind, heavy storm at sea

(Glowing eastern) wind

Jonah 1:4, 4:8, Ps.78:26

Earthquake in the time of Uzziah, king of Israel. The Lord, God of heavenly powers, touches the earth and it trembles. The Mount of Olives will be split in its middle.

Amos1:1, 9:5, 

Zech.14(:4, 5)

Earthquakes (and heavy hail, lightning and thunderbolts) go together with the judgments from the last book of the Bible.

Rev. 6:12, 8:5, 11:13, 19, 16:18

Leprosy as a punishment with Miriam, Gehazi and king Uzziah.

Pestilence, tuberculosis, infections with fever and lunacy, sores, bubonic plague, rash, scabies, incurable diseases, insanity, blindness, and temporary insanity.

Num.12:10-16, 2Kgs.5:27, 2Chron.26:19

Deu.28:21, 22, 27, 35, 59-61

Sand storms and dust clouds

Deu.28:24

 

 

POSITIVE: Natural phenomena stopped / used by God up to be a blessing

Text

The waters which are flowing down from above will stand in one heap (like a dam).

Exo.14:22-29, Ps.33:7, 78:13, Jos.3:15, 16, 4:18

A tremendous earthquake with thunder and lightning on the Mount of Sinai.

Exo.19:16-20

The Lord threw large hailstones from heaven on the enemies of Israel.

Jos.10:11

Even cosmic changes/disasters happened.

Jos. 10:12, Mat.24:27-30

An earthquake causes the Philistines to tremble.

1Sam.14:15

Rain after three and a half years of drought.

1Kgs 18 1,45

The three friends of Daniel appeared to be fireproof.

Dan. 3, Heb.11:34

Daniel himself appeared untouchable for hungry lions, in contradiction to his enemies.

Dan. 6

Hebr.11:34

Jesus rebuked the wind and the sea. In that way He calmed the storm.

(Ps.89:10, 26, 104:23-31,) Mat.8:26, 27, 14:32, Mk 4:39-41, Lk 8:24, 25

An axe head that fell into the water and floated to the surface of the water.

Jesus walks on the water, and in that way defies the gravity.

The ascensions of Elijah and Jesus were possible, because gravity could not only be lifted, but also reversed.

2Kgs.6:1-7

Mat.14:22-33, Mk 6:45-52,

Jn 6:16-21

2Kgs.2:1-18,

Lk.24:50, Acts.1:9,10

Due to an earthquake ('the earth trembled and the rocks were split') just after the death of the Lord Jesus, the dead saints were resurrected from the death.

On the day of Pentecost, a severe earthquake occurred, for an angel of the LORD descended from heaven at Jesus’ grave. 

There was an earthquake so that Paul and Silas could be freed from prison.

Mat.27:52-54 

Mat.28:2 

Acts 16:25, 26

The wind was held back by four angels.

Rev.7:1

 

So God is certainly involved in natural disasters. These are forms of judgment of blessing. God uses (used) nature to reward or punish Israel.

Death and decay are judgments of God.

When God does not control nature I may become a victim of natural violence and die outside the will and purpose of God.

Are Christians immune to disasters?

My wife likes active holidays. That's why we once went hiking from mountain hut to mountain hut. One morning we woke up in the snow during a summer holiday. That’s when the fun was gone for me and I longed for a helicopter to pick us up acutely. It was dangerous with snow in the mountains, moreover we couldn’t see the signs and markings for the walking route clearly anymore.

We decided to descend to the civilized world. In our way back in the car we listened to a speech of late Rev. Dick van Keulen. He was telling in that speech that his wife was killed during … a mountain walk… Also Christians appear to be vulnerable indeed, to natural violence. If the suffering also strikes Christians … despite Ps.121:5-8: “The Lord is your keeper; 5 The Lord is your shade on your right hand. 6 The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night. 7 The Lord will [a]protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. 8 The Lord will [b] guard your going out and your coming in, From this time forth and forever.” Why have certain Christians nevertheless died miserably? Or the opposite: Why am I still alive?

The mortal man

Asking why natural disasters happen, is asking why people die.

Humans are vulnerable and simply die sooner or later. Humans die as a result of the Fall, and about 6,000 people die every hour worldwide. By no means everyone has been granted to die in peace on a comfortable deathbed, or, as it is often beautifully described, to ‘be asleep’. As Jacob, who after an eventful life, felt his end approaching, gave his sons prophetic blessings, withdrew his feet and breathed his last breath (Gen.49). Such a way of dying seems ideal to me.  

Originally, death is not quite normal. We are created to live forever. Jesus, the King of life defeated death, for He rose from the death. He also relativizes death. He declared that the daughter of Jairus was not dead, but asleep (Mat.9:24, Mk.5:40, Lk.8:53). The crowd laughed at Him, death is hopelessly irreversible!

But not with Jesus. Jesus also said: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mat.10:28). More important than your body, is your soul (Lk.12:4, 5, 20, 21, 31, 35, 40). The sting of death is out, but death is still there. He who doesn’t repent, will perish (equally) in an earthly way. But whoever does recognize the Kingdom of Heaven, can be killed by a crashing tower as well, but will not die (spiritually). Life is short but also eternal, but through repentance we can escape the coming judgment. The ultimate rewards and punishments are not distributed in this life. The Eternal One deals differently with time. Of course it is always tragic when a person dies because of natural violence. Sorrow and mourning are then justified and compassion and crying together is natural. Are we daily ready to change the temporal for the eternal? Even death cannot separate us from the great love of Christ, that’s a great comfort (Rom.8:38).

The guilt question

What is the cause of suffering, the cause of a disaster? What is the purpose, the sense of a disaster? How do we need to explain that? In the wisdom literature we see the following: The book of Proverbs states ‘You will reap what you sow’. The good, righteous man will be rewarded; the bad, wicked man will be punished. In Saint Nicholas language it’s said: ‘Praise with the good, scold with the bad’. The book of Proverbs seems to mean that the black-white model doesn’t work. It’s all pointless. Also the book of Job makes clear that God doesn’t ‘work’ like that. The tower of Siloam collapsed, which sadly caused the death of eighteen people (Lk.13:4, 5). The question that people quickly ask is: Who has sinned in this case? This must be a punishment or judgment of God. And just to stay with Siloam: the blind born man in John 9 was asked the same question, for apparently people then were also thinking in that mindset. Again Jesus answers that this is the wrong question. For diseases and disasters, sin and guilt are not necessarily the cause. Apparently a tower fell down, ‘without respect for appearance’. Jesus: “Certainly not I say unto you, but if you do not repent, you will all die the same way”. Whoever you are, no matter how you live, whether you sin or not, a tower can just fall upon you, you can just die.

Jesus cared more about a spiritual death (a soulish death) than about a physical death. When you’re dead, you have no longer the chance to repent.

On ‘All Saints’ Day of 1 November 1755, an earthquake took place in the city of Lisbon, Portugal. People in the church, priests and church goers cried and screamed for mercy. Fires broke out, there was a flood wave and between 30,000 and 60,000 victims were to be mourned about. Note that the divine judgment came upon the sinful harbor city on All Saints’ Day. But …. the street with brothels was spared. The Protestants interpreted: “This is the judgment against the Jesuits!” The Jesuits, however said: “God’s wrath burst out, because of the negligence of the inquisition!” A Franciscan priest claimed: “It is God’s mercy, for Lisbon deserved worse” 3 How do we interpret these disasters?

Disasters became quite a mirror in which we see the reflection of our own convictions and desires. Does God protect His people? In disasters we do not find a confirmation of a religion, for victims from all religions are to be mourned. Why was Bangkok with the sex industry spared from the Tsunami?

Was the province of Zeeland more sinful than Amsterdam at the time of the flood disaster in 1953? The wicked were spared, but the righteous were wiped out. In other words: there is no obvious guilty party to be blamed.

Do we have a right picture of God?

What about God’s involvement in natural disasters? Is God the culprit or does He have nothing to do with them? Is He perhaps mighty but not almighty? Is He indeed the all-good, almighty and omniscient God?? Or is God too weak to intervene or even malicious? Is He a sadist? Can God only cry along as poor consolation? Is God up in His command tower, being safe and sound, scattering disasters? Let Him come down Himself to the Valley of Tears and find out Himself what suffering is about! And then came Christmas…, somewhere in a remote place of the world. But the humiliation went much deeper: and it was Good Friday. The King of the Jews (Jesus) stood in front of the king of the Jews (Herod). Who was actually the powerful one and who the powerless one when Jesus was standing in front of His judge Pilate? Much to the surprise of Pilate, Jesus did not answer the interrogations of the governor. “Why don’t you say anything to me?”Pilate asked. “Do You not know that I have the authority to release You or crucify You?” Jesus answered: You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (Jn19:9-11). Earlier Jesus already said: “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” (Jn 10:17,18). It didn't get out of hand with Jesus, nor is He a tragic victim of injustice. So He was the temporarily powerless One. He chose consciously to identify Himself with suffering people and to reconcile humanity with God by His horrible death on the cross. Is God love? Yes, certainly, on the cross His arms were spread widely towards us. There He cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mat.27:46, Ps.22:2), but as Job He received no answer. ‘In Jesus, the curse of nature and the curse on humanity were borne, so that we could be free from the paralyzing results of sin. God’s answer to disaster is the cross.’ 4

  • Shortly after His ascension, Jesus stated: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”That is quite a claim. So, He is the Almighty, but He consciously gave up His power temporarily. But that means that He certainly has all control over all natural powers. So, theoretically and potentially, God has all power. Is the following statement correct? “There will be no earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, etc… without God having signed for it.” God allows them. “The Lord creates whatever He wants in heaven and on earth and in the deeps of the oceans. He causes vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth, He creates lightning for the rain falls; He brings forth wind from His treasures” (Ps. 135:6,7). But why doesn’t He prevent so much misery? Here the danger is hidden that we hold God accountable. What He does, doesn’t please us actually and we can do better.

Maybe we should adjust our image of God. God is truly:

  • The Almighty, awesome creative Maker
  • He is righteous and holy
  • Seemingly arbitrary or unpredictable
  • He is sovereign and independent
  • Mysterious and untraceable
  • An autocrat
  • A Loving, kind Father
  • A Fortress, Protector, Healer, Deliverer, etc.
  • Both the Lamb and the Lion (“do not pet please”) etc,

 

I AM WHO I AM’

NOT :

‘I am Whom you want Me to be.’

 

Who God is not:
• The Butler
• A cuddle god
• The road assistant
• Santa Claus
• All risk insurer
• Entertainer

Our God is in heaven, He does whatever He pleases (Ps. 115:3). God is the Giver and the Taker of life. God has the right to do so. God’s ways are unfathomable. No. He is not a sadist. God has no pleasure in the suffering of man. See Ps. 116:15: ”Precious [and of great consequence] in the sight of the LORD, Is the death of His godly ones [so He watches over them]. (AMP), “Precious in the sight of the LORD, Is the death of His saints.”(NKJV)
“Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?” (Eze.18:23).

7. Conclusion
Disasters seem to cause casualties blindly and randomly regardless of race, religion, age, gender, and lifestyle. So many things of human significance are made relatively important by disasters. Our lives are vulnerable and unpredictable. Have we repented and ready to die today? Today is the day of salvation/grace. Natural disasters and sufferings are God’s megaphone: man, how did you build? Figurative and literal storms will batter your life house (Mat.7:24-27). Did you just let Jesus talk?

After the prophet John the Baptist spoke out against the king and his wife, he got thrown into prison. He is also compared to the then depressed prophet Elijah.
John doubts and asks himself whether he followed the wrong person. Jesus answered and said to the disciples of John the Baptist: “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them”. John probably thought: “That’s wonderful, but I am in jail now innocently. Is it not also written in Isaiah 61:1,2 that captives would be set free? But no word about that”. It seems as though John the herald was forgotten by God, or as though He was indifferent towards him. John could have protested or forsake his faith because it was not effective for him. Also here we see the tense between the 'already' and the ‘not yet’. Therefore also the addition of Jesus for John and also for us: “Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” (Lk.7:18-23). God has a higher purpose with disasters and can even use the evil for good. God’s thoughts are indeed higher than those of men (Isa. 55: 8, 9). God has other priorities than we.

Job, a survivor of storms and lightning strikes, seems to accept his fate quickly. But then, chapter after chapter after chapter, we see his understandable protest follows: ”WHY??”, ”WHY ME??”. His friends worsened his suffering.
And God did not allow Himself to account for it, He gave no explanation.
We know more than Job knew at that time about his situation. Job believed in God and God believed in Job, but Satan, the accuser, claimed that he did not serve God without a reason. In other words: Job would serve God, only in order to receive God’s blessings. It turned out that it was not so. Was the devil the only one to be blamed? God gave Satan limited power. Job’s children did not die because they were that bad, but because their father was put to the test. We will, like Job, have to live with unanswered questions. What are God’s plans and counsels exactly? Wait till later. We don’t have to know God’s plans and counsels before we bow to His authority. Do we want to worship God for better OR for worse? “For His mercies never cease …”. Do they?!

We often cannot associate the horrible disasters with an almighty loving God.
If there is a God, He obviously rules wrong, according to many people.
However, God is not accountable to anyone. His government seems arbitrary and chaotic. This is how we people experience it. We look against the backside of the embroidery work, God sees the front side.

borduurwerk

The famous embroidery work of Corrie Ten Boom has a real backside and a real front side.

In order to create, you have to be almighty. The Almighty created the universe, including all natural laws. As Creator, He is of course above all and doesn’t need to be bothered about it. He can appoint, intervene, change and abolish whatever natural law He pleases. God determines the exact time, the duration and the intensity of natural disasters. But He is not arbitrary, and He keeps His laws.

Meanwhile, man's responsibility to protect himself from nature remains. When they built houses in Israel, they had to make a balustrade (parapet) for the flat roof for the sake of safety (Deu.22:8). We can apply that verse to ourselves. So in order to protect ourselves against floods, we need to build and maintain dikes, dams and dunes. Do we take action, do we run away from danger (for example from a forest fire), do we let ourselves to be vaccinated? Do I put my rear light on in traffic, and do I buckle my safety belt and put on my safety helmet?
How much risk do we take in sports? How wise is it to ski off-piste or live on the San Andreas Fault Line? We should not tempt God. And in case of disaster, victims must be helped. Christian are then at the forefront as emergency workers, even though the cause of a disaster is and remains a mystery. God remains a mystery to our intellect. Because He doesn’t fit in any image, it is pointless to make an image of Him. His ways are untraceable, His ordinances are unfathomable. God reveals Himself in nature and in the Scripture in part. We have the choice: do we accept and worship an unfathomable God wholeheartedly or not?

“See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb.12:25-29 NKJV)

W.J.A. Pijnacker Hordijk
Februari 2020

translatefd by Ursula Moestapa

Recommended but unfortunately sold out: Erwin W.Lutzer, Where was God? Answers to difficult questions about God and natural disasters (Veenendaal: Grace Publishing House, 2008)

(1) https://www.rd.nl/vandaag/buitenland/de-tien-grootste-humanitaire-rampen-van-de-jaren-10-1.1620487 ,(Today(abroad)-ten major humanitarian disasters of the years) Klaas Jan Baas, Meeste lijden komt door de mens, (Most sufferings are caused by man) Nederlands Dagblad, 11-1-2020
(2) https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodicee
(3) Erwin W.Lutzer, Waar was God? Antwoorden op moeilijke vragen over God en natuurrampen (Veenendaal: Grace Publishing House, 2008) p. 19-22
(4) Erwin W.Lutzer, a.w., p. 111

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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