I was going to write on a particular issue this week, but the devastating May 20 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma and other places cause every other story to take a back seat.
Our hearts are broken as we hear of the loss of life, homes, schools–even whole neighborhoods– that took place in a matter of minutes.
We especially ache for the families who lost children at Plaza Towers Elementary School where many drowned or were crushed by fallen debris.
These sobering natural catastrophes cause great pain for those who experience them, but they are also used to remind all of us of a number of important truths–ones that relate to children, compassion, and our need of a Heavenly Father.
First of all, I think it’s important to remind ourselves where natural disasters originate. Should we blame God, the weather, bad luck or ourselves? There are four possibilities or combinations to consider:
The Bible is clear that the God of the Universe uses weather and physical events on earth to reveal truth and draw people to change their lives. In the 8th century B.C., God brought a vision through the prophet Amos “two years before the earthquake” (Amos 1:1) during the reign of King Uzziah that spoke of the land being shaken by God (8:8), houses being smashed (6:11), altars being cracked (3:14) and even the Temple at Bethel being struck and collapsing (9:1).
As Stephen Austin writes, “The prophet’s repeated contemporary references to the earthquake is why it bears his name. ‘Amos’ Earthquake’ impacted Hebrew literature immensely. After the gigantic earthquake, no Hebrew prophet could predict a divine visitation in judgment without alluding to an earthquake. Zechariah says “Yes, you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah” (Zechariah 14:5). The panic caused by Amos’ earthquake must have been the topic of legend in Jerusalem because Zechariah asked his readers to recall that terrifying event 230 years later.”
The prophets said for centuries that God used famines, natural diasasters, invading armies, and pestilence to bring people to repentance. This is why even insurance companies categorize natural disasters as “acts of God.” This is a valid, historical view. As C.S. Lewis famously stated: “Judgment is a severe form of mercy.” When we don’t listen to God in our hearts, he uses environmental means to get our attention. The goal is always repentance i.e. a changed life and hope for the future.
The Bible also records that the devil, Lucifer or Satan, has some delegated powers to bring physical calamities upon people. This was the case of the trials of Job whom God allowed Satan to sift to prove and strengthen his faith (Job 1:12-19). In this particular story, fire, invading tribes, and violent winds were used by the enemy to test and impoverish Job.
In the end, God used Satan’s physical testings to bring Job to a renewed faith and actually expand his prosperity (42:5-10).
We also know that we live in a fallen world where accidents, both of man and nature, happen to people in every culture. The world is no longer a Paradise, but one where “the whole creation groans and travails in childbirth” until it is set free from its fallenness (Romans 8:18-30). Thus, many of the physical disasters and calamities we face might not be the direct hand of God or Satan, but simply the fruits of a fallen and imperfect world that are allowed by the Creator.
For the next few days our eyes will be glued to our media devices as meteorologists explain to us how warm air from the Gulf of Mexico colliding with cool air from the Rockies, coupled with the power of the upper atmosphere jet stream, create the ideal circumstances in “Tornado Alley” (from Texas to Illinois), . In fact, I learned last night there are more tornadoes in this region than anywhere else on earth. That’s a fact of nature.
A final possibility for human suffering is the curse of human sin. Notice the graphic word picture in Isaiah 24:1-6: “Look! The Lord is about to destroy the earth and make it a vast wasteland. See how he is scattering the people over the face of the earth. Priests and lay people, servants and masters, maids and mistresses, buyers and sellers, lenders and borrowers, bankers and debtors–none will be spared…The earth dries up, the crops wither, the sky refuses to rain. The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted the instructions of God, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth and its people. And those who live in it are guilty.”
This possiblity involves God but stresses man’s part in the curse of creation. None of this scenario is God’s fault. It’s the direct result of man’s sin.
So when a natural disaster strikes us, all four of these causes should be considered. We should ask ourselves a number of important questions:
1. Is God trying to get our attention for some reason and what should be our response? It was encouraging last night to hear governors, mayors, first responders, and reporters all say with conviction that “our thoughts and prayers” are with the people of Oklahoma. When many residents were interviewed, they also invoked the need for prayer and for God.
That’s a good sign. Prayer means we need and believe in God. Maybe God does use certain calamities to wake us up from our busy lives and remind us of our need for relationship with Him.
2. Does this storm or disaster have some Satanic origins and what can we do about them? This spiritual reality is harder to discern, but it’s certainly biblical and real. Maybe the peoples of “Tornado Alley” or the “Hurricane Region” or those living on the earthquake fault lines of the west coast need to press into God to do spiritual warfare against an unseen enemy that can use weather patterns to destroy. How can we “watch and pray” to stop Satan’s attacks and get closer to our Protector and Savior?
3. What should we do in a fallen world to limit nature’s upheavals? Should we build our homes, schools and businesses in a different manner, or avoid living in some areas that are prone to tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding or earthquakes? This has been done in some parts of the world which is one reason there are less casualties in places where the infrastructure is more reinforced and prepared. How should they rebuild Moore, Oklahoma to be as prepared as possible for future storms?
4. What is God trying to say to us about our sins or separation from Him? This should really be the first question we attempt to answer after a natural disaster. Are we in right relationship to God? Have we been trying to live without him and become self-sufficient in ourselves?
I am always sobered when human disasters lead to increased prayer, humble hearts, seasons of repentance and people turning to the Lord. In the greater scheme of things, this is the most lasting and powerful fruit–for people to meet God through trials and tribulations. Their eternity depends on that encounter.
And “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
Especially when he calls through the pain of disaster.
There are a couple of other reminders that emerge from the Oklahoma Twisters.
First, children are very special to us and to God. As we watched the news last night, the greatest expressions of grief and concern came over the loss of the children–especially graphic and haunting at the Plaza Towers Elementary School. Of course, all the devastation was heart-wrenching. But nothing was more grievous than children dying.
The same could be said of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre. We were deeply impacted because children died. Why does the death of children touch our hearts so? Because children are so young, vulnerable, and innocent, with their whole lives before them. We hate to see them suffer or have their lives snuffed out early–as we should.
But this should be another wake-up call to to us and should have been learned from the recently-completed Gosnell Murder Trial where a gruesome abortionist was exposed and convicted of his evil practices. His recent case and others have shed increasing light on the real evil of abortion.
But, wait America. It’s not just the grisly details of Dr. Gosnell snipping spinal cords of born babies that should move us to revulsion and concern. In the womb, many of us are still killing the same innocent. vulnerable children! There’s no difference between us and him–just more exposure in his case.
May God use both natural disasters and human atrocities to bring us to a love of all children who so beautifully reveal to us the character of God.
And finally, may the flood of relief services as seen through both government aid and especially the tireless humanitarian efforts of the Body of Christ, remind us that the God of the Universe is deeply compassionate and desires to save us.
Thousands of years ago, Job renewed his trust in God through a whirlwind (Job 38:1). in 2013, may we all find God in the Tornado.