Another natural disaster has come and is going, and another set of questions follow in its path along the lines of “Where, how and why?”
Hurricane Dorian as of this post has weakened into a category two storm as it makes it way along the eastern coast of a handful of South Atlantic states before dissipating at sea, having devastated the Bahamas and the Abaco Islands as a Category five hurricane, battering those islands with 185 mph plus sustained winds.
At least seven are dead (more casualties are expected) and more than two dozen injured so far. Relief officials have already reported scenes of utter ruin this week in parts of the Bahamas and rushed to deal with an unfolding humanitarian crisis in the wake of this storm, not only the most powerful one on record ever to hit the islands, but perhaps the most powerful in history to make landfall in this hemisphere other than one unnamed storm in 1935.
The storm’s punishing winds and floodwaters destroyed or severely damaged thousands of homes and crippled hospitals. “It’s total devastation. It’s decimated. Apocalyptic,” said an official from a local hurricane relief organization there.
“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy,” Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said.
‘Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?’
Is the answer that “God is good, but he’s not powerful enough to do anything about such tragedies?” Some liberal Christians teach such ideas.
I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things (Isaiah 45:5-7, ESV).
The confused and unbiblical mean well, but in my view, they just don’t understand God, the world and his Word very well, as they look to take him off the hook for things like the Holocaust and hurricanes, rather than acknowledge his sovereign power and purposes (providence) in the midst of it all.
As I mentioned to a Facebook Live audience last Sunday, an acquaintance and former local media colleague of mine some years ago, was an avowed agnostic if not an atheist, who in the wake of some hurricanes and the chaos they left behind, wrote, “Faith in a way, makes it harder to understand the maddening capriciousness of natural disasters, or even man-made cataclysms like wars and terrorist attacks. Why would an omnipotent God do this to someone?” It’s a good question and one that Jesus Christ dealt with in a somewhat similar scenario 2,000 years ago.
At the end of chapter 12 of Luke’s gospel, Jesus rebuked his religious skeptics for their lack of discernment. He told them that while they might be experts in discerning basic weather patterns like our meteorologists do today, they couldn’t figure out the real sign of the times, which was the coming of Messiah and his kingdom.
The enemies of Christ often looked to set-him up and trap him in rhetorical arguments such as at the beginning of Luke 13, where they threw at him maybe the most difficult question anyone with his authority could be asked, the question of the problem of evil, pain and suffering- “Where was God in…the Bahamas maybe?” Two local tragedies had occurred leading to the question he was asked which he answered with two incredible, direct and to the point statements of his own.
The Question of Relative Death
We learn in Luke 13:1-3 that Pontius Pilate, then governor of Judea who would later condemn Christ, slaughtered a number of relatively defenseless Jews protesting an injustice.
The Pharisee crowd must have thought they had Jesus pinned to a wall, thinking he would split the Jewish community if he declared the Galileans were judged by God for sin in being mutilated, and if he sympathized with the victims, he would be siding against Roman officials, potentially endangering himself and his ministry with them.
Therefore, rather than having dealt with the politics of the question, assigning blame or sin or giving God’s specific reason for the “why” of this persecution related tragedy, he essentially asked them, ‘You think God’s sovereignty is limited to people’s sin? Does cataclysm and disasters and murders only happen because of God’s direct judgment on people (Luke 13:2-3)?’
Then as a follow-up, he was asked about the rationale behind or responsibility for the tower in Siloam that fell upon and seemed to ‘randomly’ kill 18 people.
What then was Jesus’ answer in verse 5? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Or, to put in the even more direct words attributed to the ‘Prince of Preachers’, Charles Spurgeon, “Turn or burn.” Do those two answers satisfy you? Perhaps not, if you are looking to ascertain God’s secret and providential will of decree, which is not for us to know (Deut. 29:29).
This Jewish question tying into interpretations of the law as reasons for calamities or unexpected death comes up everywhere in the Bible.
Job obviously lived what many would call in human terms, a ‘tragic life’ and his friends got around to laying the blame for his suffering at his feet (Job 22:4-5). Although God would have been justified to judge a sinner like Job or anyone else in calamity for that matter, by virtue of their sin and rebellion, (there are no “good” people to which bad things happen), God had other purposes in mind.
Similarly, what we find out from Jesus in his encounter with the Jews is much more important than an explanation for tragic events. We learn something about God and man and who we are when we come face to face with God. One thing we learn, is that everyone has or will die this side of the second coming of Jesus and glory, and that the way and when is not nearly as important as our relationship to God and our future and eternal destiny at the time of our death.
We also learn that God has sovereign purposes and plans in the midst of his redemptive promises for his people – even in the wake of disasters. One of those purposes as C.S. Lewis once said, is to “rouse the deaf ears” of a sin-cursed world.
What may be more interesting to me in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian is that well over 60 million people will die around the world this year- that’s about 200,000 per day- nearly 8,000 per hour and I would say the vast majority are “perishing” or going to hell for rejecting Jesus Christ and his gospel of salvation.
That fact doesn’t seem to bother us as much as the concern about the plane that crashes and kills 200 at a time, the tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes and other catastrophes and disasters that take larger numbers of people unexpectedly at one time, which is all made worse by our 24 hour, satellite and internet news cycle. You can’t escape worldwide suffering today. We now bear the most scientific knowledge of every CAT 5 storm.
In fact, every tragic event seems to us to occur at unprecedented levels which may not be the case at all. Though it is certainly true man has more technological killing power at his disposal than ever before, God seems to be restraining it at present.
Disease did far more damage in the past to man, when plagues would virtually wipe out the populations of whole nations, but the truth is, the calamities aren’t any worse or any more frequent than they’ve always been. The earth is a dangerous place to live. Why? That question is worth asking because it leads to the Lord’s answer: What is the common thread throughout history and events like this? Where did it all start and why? SIN (Romans 8:22-23).
Why did those Jews offering sacrifices die at the hand of Pilate? Why did that tower of Siloam fall on those 18? Where was God in the hurricane that just decimated the Bahamas? Those really shouldn’t be our most important questions, considering we know that God is all-powerful, all-knowing and ever-present.
The question is what kind of God do we have that lets anybody live? We know God is holy and righteous and we know the wages of sin is death, and we deserve to die. The soul that sins, it shall die. The fact that we take another breath is because God is merciful. It’s the patience and tolerance of God leading us to repentance.
You see, history works this way, we all deserve to die. But instead, God lets us live. He lets us love, laugh and enjoy blessings of common grace-why? What’s that about? It’s God putting his love, grace and mercy on display as well as his intent to judge sin, to the point that we would obey Acts 20, which commands us to repent toward God and have faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
The point that Jesus was making in Luke 13, is that ‘natural’ disasters, calamities and cataclysms remind us that It’s time to repent. He’s giving the wolrd that opportunity during this age of redemption to repent, believe in Christ and escape the coming judgment that the Bible has been talking about for centuries.
How Do We Pray?
Our response as born-again Christians with a salvation story to tell is at least three-fold in prayer:
- Pray for God’s mercy to fall upon the victims and survivors of the Bahamas and the surrounding islands as they rebuild their country.
- Pray for God’s divine and sovereign grace to give a new birth of salvation to many in the wake of the storm as they seek God and seek to make sense of this disaster.
- Pray for God’s people to bring salt and light with good, loving deeds of service to the victims, manifesting Christ and the hope of glory only found in a relationship with him.
If you still wonder or somebody asks you where was God in Hurricane Dorian? Think and say, where he’s always been – right in the middle of it, directing, working, loving and waiting for people to cry out to him for his mercy and grace, in repentance for the forgiveness of sin.
Think and say along with the millions who are the just living by faith and hope, for the time when all wrongs are righted and when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Rev. 21:4)”