With all of the natural disasters happening recently, I'm sure many people have asked "Is God causing these natural disasters?". Is God unhappy with the people who live in areas who are affected by natural disasters? For example, did God cause the earthquake and tsunami in Japan because he has something against the Japanese? In the Bible we can see many different reasons why disasters happen. Lets examine what the Bible says about natural disasters.
Major Disasters in the Bible
The Bible does describe many natural disasters. However, the reasons behind them are quite varied. Let's look at some disasters from the Bible and see the various reasons behind them.
Disasters as Judgement
In the Bible, some disasters are sent specifically by God as judgment or punishment for people doing wrong or turning away from God. These disasters are designed to wipe out evil and prevent it from spreading, and to show others that God will not allow evil to go on indefinitely. For example:
- The Flood: God caused a worldwide flood to wipe out most of humanity. God told Noah "Cruelty and violence have spread everywhere. Now I'm going to destroy the whole earth and all its people."(Genesis 6:13). Also "The Lord saw how bad the people on earth were and that everything they thought and planned was evil."(Genesis 6:5). God used the flood to destroy all the evil people, but saved Noah and his family and some animals to start over.
- Sodom and Gomorrah: God destroyed two specific cities in ancient Israel which were full of evil people. "The Lord said, 'Abraham, I have heard that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are doing all kinds of evil things.'"(Genesis 18:20). Yet Abraham bargains with God and gets God to promise that even if only 10 good people are found in the cities, God would not destroy the cities (Genesis 18:32). This shows that God does not like to punish innocent people. God even sends angels to warn Lot (Abraham's nephew) to get out of Sodom before it was destroyed. Then "the Lord sent burning sulfur down like rain on Sodom and Gomorrah. He destroyed those cities and everyone who lived in them, as well as their land and the trees and grass that grew there."(Genesis 19:23).
Disasters as Warnings
God sometimes uses disasters as a way to get people's attention and convince them to follow God. Usually these disasters will start small, and if God is still ignored then more severe disasters follow. If people listen to God, the disasters are avoided. Lets look at some Biblical examples:
- Plagues of Egypt: The Plagues of Egypt were caused directly by God. The plagues were sent because Moses asked the Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt, yet Pharaoh kept refusing. So the plagues got worse and worse until finally the Pharaoh gave in. The Pharaoh could have listened to what God said through Moses and averted the plagues. Moses warned the Pharaoh before each plague that if the Pharaoh would let the Israelites leave, the disaster would not happen (Exodus 8:2-3, 8:20-21, 9:1-3, 9:14, 10:4, 11:4).
- Warnings to Israel:God warned the Israelites "If you disobey me and my laws, and if you break our agreement, I will punish you terribly, and you will be ruined." (Leviticus 26:14-16). God then lists many types of disaster he may send - diseases, enemy attacks, drought, famine, war, invasion and captivity to foreign people (Leviticus 26:16-39). These disasters all happened to Israel at various times throughout their history as results of turning away from God. God even says "Then, if you still refuse to obey me, I will punish you seven times for each of your sins.... if you keep rebelling against me, I'll punish you seven times worse, just as your sins deserve!"(Leviticus 26:18-21). This shows that God promises the disasters will get worse if the Israelites still do not repent after the less severe disasters. This seems rather severe, but remember that the Israelites had a special promise from God that no other country in history has had, and so in return for the massive blessings God promised to Israel in return for obedience, he also warns there will be severe consequences for disobedience.
- Nineveh: The city of Nineveh was planned to be destroyed by God, yet God told the prophet Jonah to go tell Nineveh to repent and avoid the disaster. "Jonah warned the people, 'Forty days from now, Nineveh will be destroyed!'"(Jonah 3:4). The people fasted and dressed in sackcloth to show their sorrow for their evil ways. The King ordered the people "'You must also pray to the Lord God with all your heart and stop being sinful and cruel. Maybe God will change his mind and have mercy on us, so we won't be destroyed.'. When God saw that the people had stopped doing evil things, he had pity and did not destroy them as planned."(Jonah 3:7-10). This warning worked, and the people repented and God did not have to send disasters to the city.
Disasters as Tests
God allowed disasters to destroy Job's wealth and family as a test of Job's faith. Job's oxen were stolen, servants killed, camels were stolen, fire killed his sheep, and a windstorm destroyed his house and killed his family (Job 1: 13-19). To us, Job would look like a really unlucky guy. But these disasters were allowed by God to teach Job to trust Him more, and when Job had passed the test, God restored Job's wealth and gave him more children and animals. Sometimes we may experience unfortunate circumstances not because of our own fault, but because God might be allowing a situation to help us grow in faith. Some people haven't even considered God until something bad happens to them, and then they take God seriously. Misfortune and suffering in this life can be useful if it leads us to eternal life in Heaven by learning to trust God.
Perhaps today, some disasters are tests of our caring and generosity. Disasters teach us to care for people who would otherwise be ignored. For example, nobody really cared too much about Haiti before the earthquake in 2010, but after it happened countries sent all sorts of aid and donations to try to help. This doesn't mean disasters are good, but they can move us to care for others around us that we may not have ever thought about before.
Disasters as Signs of Fallen Creation
Sometimes, disasters are not caused by God at all. Instead, they are the results of living in a fallen (sinful) world. When Adam and Eve sinned, all of creation was corrupted. The disciple Paul wrote "We know that all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth." (Romans 8:22). In fact, Jesus compares some natural disasters to birth pains: "There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains." (Matthew 24:8, NIV). Here Jesus is referring to the disasters that happen before and during the Tribulation. As a woman goes through labour, first there are a few pains, then the contractions get stronger and more frequent. I recently read this news article  which says scientists predict natural disasters to increase in the next few years. So perhaps these are signs of the Tribulation approaching soon.
There is an interesting comment from Jesus about a small disaster in his day. Jesus said "What about those eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Do you think they were worse than everyone else in Jerusalem? Not at all! But you can be sure that if you don't turn back to God, every one of you will also die." (Luke 13:4-5). Jesus here says that people who happened to be killed in an accident were not killed because they were particularly bad people. Sometimes, disasters happen just because this world isn't perfect, and people get hurt who have done nothing wrong. But these tragedies should remind us that we might die anytime, and so we should make sure we have faith in God now and not put it off until later.
Why does God let innocent children suffer from natural disasters?
This is one of the questions I have heard many atheists ask. If God was real, surely he would stop all our suffering, especially suffering of children, right? If you have issues with God because God allows suffering in our world, or allows the deaths of children, I would suggest reading the book "Celebrating the Wrath of God" by Jim McGuiggan . Mr. McGuiggan makes some very good points about why God allows young children or good people to experience suffering, and I would highly recommend this book.
One of the strongest arguments McGuiggan makes is about the nature of sin, and the reason why God caused nature to be cursed. He writes "God's judgment against our sin is not vindictiveness or spite! It isn't that we sin and God burns the children. He's a relentless lover pursuing us with the intention of giving us the fullness of a glorious life. To do that, he had brought a curse down on us all, not only because of our sin, but also because of his ceaseless and loving longing for us. Our guilt has brought God's curse not only on the guilty but also on the innocent; Jesus Christ and a host of innocents."[2, p.29]. The children are innocent because they have not yet sinned personally, but they are members of fallen humanity. When humanity is punished collectively, the children suffer as well because they are part of the group. In fact, the suffering of children may point out exactly how broken our world is, and encourage people that we all need to turn our lives around and try to follow Jesus.
A powerful quote is from L.E. Maxwell: "In the midst of mounting world misery and mystery... there are worse things than trouble, worse than pain, worse than death... Thistles, thorns, sweat - better than sin. Sorrows, sickness, suffering - better than sin. Pain, poverty, affliction - better than sin. Wars, plagues, famines, disease, destruction, death - better than sin. Endless tyranny, unpitied tears, broken hearts - better than sin. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, our mortal coil destined to the invasion of a million worms - all better than sin!" [2, p.100].
God sees sin as much more horrible than any disaster or suffering on earth. If suffering - even the death of children - can convince humanity that we need God, and thus repent from our sins and avoid eternal destruction in hell, it's worth it. A cancer patient is willing to undergo chemotherapy and surgery because they know it is better than dying from cancer. God says it's better for humanity to endure a small time of suffering in order to achieve an eternity of glory in Heaven! The disciple John wrote "I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us."(Romans 8:18). No matter how bad it gets on Earth, Earth is only temporary, and Heaven will be so much better than we can imagine and will last forever.
Some people will only turn to God and realize they need God when times get bad. In some ways, their spirits are like pinecones in the forest, which need the heat of a forest fire to open and sprout . Sometimes in the midst of destruction, only when everything is gone - only then a person will cry out "God, I need you! I can't survive on my own!". If everything was good, we may wonder why we even need God. Even if a disaster doesn't directly affect us, we may still be shaken out of our ordinary lives for a moment and wonder "What if that happened here? What if it was me who died in that earthquake?" and may inspire someone to turn to Jesus for salvation.
In fact, even in the future in the midst of the worst time on earth - the Tribulation - where there will be frequent and devastating disasters - a huge number of people will turn to God and be saved! The disciple John had a vision of heaven during the Tribulation, where he sees "a large crowd with more people than could be counted. They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood before the throne and before the Lamb." "These are the ones who have gone through the great suffering. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and have made them white."(Revelation 7:9-14). These people were not Christians before the Tribulation or they would have been Raptured to Heaven before the disasters started. Yet all these people had "gone through the great suffering", which shows that only when the Tribulation came did they repent and trust in Jesus.
Christians should not be afraid of Disasters
If you are a Christian, you should not be afraid of any disasters. God is with us at all times, even when everything else in the world has gone insane. Christians should not fear death - if we die we will immediately be with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:8). And if we endure suffering we can know it is only temporary, and we are in good company with the apostles, all the many persecuted Christians throughout history, and even Jesus himself.
Here are some very inspiring Bible verses to give you courage in the face of fear of natural disasters:
- "The LORD is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1, NIV). You can replace "whom" in the verse above with "what" - we should not fear anyone or anything.
- "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." (Psalm 46:1-3, NIV)
- "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday." (Psalm 91:4-6, NIV)
Additionally, Christians who are alive now do not have to fear the Tribulation, even though we may see the signs of it fast approaching. God has promised us that we will be taken to Heaven in the Rapture before the Tribulation happens, even before the Antichrist is revealed. Jesus says to the true Christian church: "You obeyed my message and endured. So I will protect you from the time of testing that everyone in all the world must go through. I am coming soon. So hold firmly to what you have, and no one will take away the crown that you will be given as your reward." (Revelation 3:10-11). There is much more evidence in my article here that the Rapture happens before the Tribulation, so we should not fear the Tribulation. Instead we should see the signs around us - the unrest in the middle east, the earthquakes and disasters, the unstable global economy, mounting persecution of Christians - and be motivated that we have only a small amount of time left and should do whatever we can to spread God's message to others before we're gone.
As we have seen, natural disasters can be caused by many things. God may send disasters specifically as punishment on evil people, or they may be a warning to turn back to God. They may be a test of our faith and character, and test us to love and help others who have experienced disasters. But they may also just be the symptoms of a fallen corrupted universe. Yet God uses this fallen universe and disasters to encourage people to trust God for our safety, and to move people to look for God who may never have thought they needed Him before. God would rather allow disasters, sickness, and death than have people spend an eternity in hell. So even though some innocent people may suffer, it is better for the sake of humanity's eternal destiny to allow disasters.
Fortunately, as Christians we do not have to be afraid of the future or natural disasters. We can trust in Jesus that our salvation is secure, and if we die we will finally see Him face to face! In the meantime, disasters and suffering should encourage Christians that it is important to spread the word about Jesus. It is true that the increasing number of natural disasters may indicate that the Tribulation will soon be here, and Christians may not have much longer to spread the Gospel. But also, none of us know when we will die. Another disaster could happen in your city tomorrow, and you may be facing Jesus sooner than you think. Keep following and trusting Jesus, and know that God is with you in all circumstances, so don't be afraid!
 www.cbc.ca - Natural disasters will increase: British report
 Jim McGuiggan (2001), Celebrating the Wrath of God - Reflections on the Agony and the Ecstasy of His Relentless Love
 www.wikipedia.org - Pine