By Pastor Stephen Hess –
Over the past month there has been a recurring and disturbing theme in the headlines: natural disasters. First, Hurricane Harvey drowned the city of Houston with a deluge of rain and flooding of epic proportions. Thousands of homes were destroyed and it will take years for the city to rebuild. Next, Hurricane Irma rolled through the Caribbean and Florida creating a path of destruction and devastation and leaving many without power for weeks. Then just last week, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Mexico City leaving buildings in rubble and hundreds of people dead. All of these events have left many people wondering: Why do events like this happen? Are they punishment from God? Some have even asked: Are these disasters a sign of the end times?
The Bible gives us some helpful answers to some of our questions. First, Scripture tells us why these events occur in creation. The explanation is simple: natural disasters are a result of the fall. When Adam and Eve fell, not only were they themselves cursed by decay and death, but creation itself also became cursed (Gen. 3:17). The result is that God’s creation became broken and no longer functions perfectly as it once did. As the Apostle Paul says, creation was “subjected to futility” and is in “bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:20-21). Generally speaking, what this means is that all natural disasters are related to human sin. “Natural disasters” are actually quite unnatural, because if human beings had never rebelled against God then these events would never exist within creation. Furthermore, in our sinfulness we often make the brokenness of creation worse by abusing the environment and making foolish decisions as we build civilization.
But some might ask a more specific question: Are these disasters a direct punishment from God to those who live in the affected areas? For instance, were the people who lived in Houston being punished directly for their sin? Were the people in Florida or Mexico City “worse sinners” since they received a direct hit? Jesus answers this question when talking about a “natural disaster” in the Gospel of Luke. In his teaching Jesus refers to an accident where a tower in Siloam collapsed and killed eighteen people. Jesus asks his listeners, “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” (Lk. 18:4). In other words, Jesus is asking if this accident was a direct result of their sinful behavior. He answers: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 18:5). According to Jesus, those who died in a natural disaster were not necessarily “worse offenders” than anyone else, but their deaths should serve as a warning to the rest of us: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
What did Jesus mean by this warning? Clearly, he didn’t mean that we will all die suddenly in a natural disaster if we don’t repent. Instead, he was referring to the larger fate that awaits us all: judgment. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Natural disasters are a reminder that we never know when our day or our time will come. Therefore, we ought to repent, turn to Christ, and be ready for the day when we will stand before God. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” When we all stand before the judgment seat those who have refused to repent and turn to Christ will perish in hell, but those who have trusted in Jesus in faith and repentance will receive an eternal inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven.
For those of us who are spared from these natural disasters, we should remember Paul’s sobering reminder: “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). The days are short, so let us turn to Christ now and receive the eternal peace that he offers, knowing that whenever our day comes, we belong to him.