Earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, typhoons, cyclones, mudslides, wildfires... Natural disasters can be frightening and devastating for those impacted. Horrific pictures and videos of families who have lost their homes and belongings, or worse, have suffered injury, death, or missing loved ones fill us with dread. We often question where God was during all of this? Couldn't He have prevented this destruction? Doesn't He care? Can we really trust God to be good and merciful in the wake of such elemental violence?
Yes, the God that Christians know to be omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent certainly has the power to prevent natural disasters from occurring. We have no way of knowing how often He intervenes to protect us from natural disasters, but we know He does.
Matthew tells of a terrible storm that came upon Jesus and His disciples while they were out to sea in a small boat. The men were terrified and woke the sleeping Messiah, who responded, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then Jesus got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it was perfectly calm. The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!"
The natural disasters that God does NOT prevent are the ones we experience and must live through—and yes, that can be scary. We struggle to understand how a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing can also be considered good and loving in the wake of seemingly pointless loss, chaos, and destruction. While we can't always know why God allows any given natural disaster, we can read the Bible and discern meaning from other traumatic events and learn why we live in a world with so much calamity.
For starters, we live in a fallen world. When Adam and Eve sinned, they didn't just mess it up for people. All of nature was cursed too (Genesis 3:17-18). No longer was it possible for sinful people to live in the perfect environment of paradise. The fall of humanity into sin had effects on everything, including the world we inhabit. Everything in creation is subject to "frustration" and "decay." Sin is the ultimate cause of natural disasters just as it is the cause of death, disease, and suffering (Romans 8:19-21).
God is always in control of the world—even amid the chaos of a natural disaster. The Bible says that Jesus Christ holds all of nature together (Colossians 1:16-17). Could God prevent natural disasters? Absolutely! We have no way of knowing how many disasters God has prevented because, well, they didn't happen.
Does God sometimes influence the weather? Yep. The plagues we read about in Exodus prior to Pharaoh's release of Israelite slaves were sent by God. Jonah's storm (and whale adventure) was sent by God to bring about obedience. Noah's flood was also sent by God as a result of sin.
Absolutely not. God created the universe and its laws of nature (Genesis 1:1). Many natural disasters are a result of those laws working themselves out. For example, when opposing weather patterns collide, we get tornados and hurricanes. When an earthquake shudders under the ocean, a tsunami is naturally triggered.
Life is unpredictable and uncertain. We wake up each morning, thinking we know how the day will go. Yet natural disasters remind us that we actually cannot predict even the next hour of our lives. God, however, is not surprised by any event that befalls us. He may allow traumatic events to occur, but He never leaves us alone through them (Joshua 1:9). He also promises that everything we endure has meaning, purpose, and is for our eventual good (Romans 8:28).
For some, a natural disaster serves as a wakeup call to life's unpredictability and brevity and causes them to seek God, who brings order out of chaos. For others, natural disasters are an opportunity to help and serve others. Many provide money, food, supplies, blood, or other services to help their fellow humans. In the midst of unspeakable loss and suffering, recipients of such goodwill see the face of a loving Jesus behind these acts of kindness.
God can, and does, bring great good out of terrible tragedies. Many amazing miracles have occurred during natural disasters that have prevented even greater loss of life. Natural disasters cause millions of people to reevaluate priorities in their life. Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid is sent to help people who are suffering. Christian ministries have the opportunity to help, minister, counsel, pray, and lead people to saving faith in Christ!
One of our greatest challenges is to choose belief and trust in God while surrounded by horrendous devastation. We need to understand that God CAN be trusted—even when it seems He is absent. We must point people to the fact that God HAS intervened in our planet—by sending His Son, Jesus Christ. We see the love of God most clearly at the foot of the cross.
We should grieve with those who grieve and seek opportunities to help. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus when we work to alleviate suffering, and we can point others to the cross for comfort and care. We should worship and praise God—despite the fallout of natural disasters.
Our best example of this is in the story of Job, a righteous man who lost all ten of his children to a natural disaster (wind that blew his house down). Understandably distraught, Job's wife could only suggest that Job ought to curse God and die (Job 2:9). But Job said, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). Wow! Job shows us it's still possible to worship God, though he had no explanations or reasons for his suffering. Those who worship God under those conditions are especially blessed.
Natural disasters can be scary, but that doesn't mean God isn't still in control. Creation was affected by sin just as much as people were (Romans 8:19-21), though sometimes natural disasters occur simply due to God's laws of nature working through normal cycles. God can bring great good out of terrible tragedies—even amazing miracles that have prevented greater loss. One of our greatest challenges is to choose belief and trust in God while surrounded by horrendous devastation. We can choose to be the hands and feet of Jesus by helping, loving, and serving others affected by natural disasters.
Rhonda is an author, wife, mother, and mentor. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in English and Religious studies. She loves studying God’s Word for truth and wisdom and uses it as a compass and roadmap for her own spiritual journey. Rhonda believes in sharing the Good News and the hope found in Biblical truths with others. She uses her writing and mentoring opportunities (often with a pinch of humor) to do just that.