FIRST-PERSON: Where is God in a hurricane?

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) -- As we witness the unfolding impact of Hurricane Florence on millions of lives, we are confronted with the question of why natural disasters occur.

If God loves us and has promised to protect us, what explanation can be given for nature's destructive forces and how should we view them? Of course, our answer comes from the authoritative source of God's own words, the Bible, where we learn:

Natural disasters result from man's original sin.

Through the sin of Adam when he rejected God's plan for his life, we know that sin entered the world and condemns all mankind of sin's guilt (Romans 5:12). As God gave Adam rule over His creation (Genesis 1:28-30), "creation was subjected to futility" (Romans 8:20) and Adam's sin resulted in the corruption of God's creation.

While Christ's death on the cross is mankind's redemption for those who "receive the abundance of grace" (Romans 5:17), creation "waits eagerly" with "anxious longing" (Romans 8:19) for its redemption "from its slavery to corruption" (Romans 8:21). This is not limited to portions of God's creation, but "the whole creation groans and suffers" (Romans 8:22). Just as we still struggle against the sin nature that remains, creation fights against sin's corruptive effects, looking to Christ's establishment of a "new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1-6, 2 Peter 3:10,13). Until then, natural disasters can be an expected part of life.

Natural disasters reflect God's judgment of sin.

Throughout the Scriptures, God used His sovereignty over His creation to enact His judgment of sin. The flood (Genesis 6-8), Sodom 's destruction (Genesis 19), the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7-11) and many other scriptural accounts indicate God's power over His creation to judge sin. In the Gospel accounts, we see Christ's power over "the winds and sea" (Matthew 8:27) and other aspects of nature (Matthew 17:27), so we can be assured of God's continued ability to reign over His creation, even though He has given control to man, his sin and Satan himself (Ephesians 6:12, John 16:11).

Although we cannot know if the destruction from natural disasters is God's judgment of a specific sin, we do know that God included nature in His judgment for original sin (Genesis 3:17-18), and we can be reminded of His hatred of sin and His promised judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).

Natural disasters remind us of Christ's return.

Before Christ died, was resurrected and ascended into heaven, He promised His return (John 14:1-3). But as He told His disciples about the end times, He spoke of things that would signify His coming. Along with false prophets, wars, plagues, famines and earthquakes (Luke 21:8-11), which are prevalent in our world today, Jesus promised "terrors and great signs from heaven" (v. 11).

In Matthew's parallel account, Jesus referred to the natural signs as "the beginning of birth pangs" (Matthew 24:8), much like the apostle Paul referred to creation's groaning and suffering from "the pains of childbirth together until now" (Romans 8:22). Although we cannot know the day, hour or place of Christ's return (Matthew .24:36), we can be assured that sin's effect on creation climaxes toward His coming again. The occurrence of natural disasters reminds us of the imminence of His return, our need to be prepared (Matthew 25:44), and the eagerness with which we are to wait (2 Timothy 4:8).

How to respond to natural disasters

Pray for those affected.

The tragedy of lives lost and homes destroyed should drive us to our knees in prayer for all of those affected by natural disasters. We pray for God to use the tragic circumstances to accomplish His good, perfect and pleasing will (Romans 8:28). But we also must pray for God's comfort and peace to embrace the hearts and lives of the many families, homes, churches and individuals searching for comfort during this difficult time (Philippians 4:6-7).

Position your life on God's Word.

Jesus promised that "heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away" (Matthew 24:35). As the temporal value of this life and earth is seen through the destruction of a natural disaster, we must continue to establish our lives on that which lives and endures forever, the Word of the Lord (1 Peter 1:23-25). As Jesus taught, "Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock" (Matthew 7:24-25).

Prepare for Christ's return.

Being prepared for Christ's return involves assurance of faith in Christ and living a life that is pleasing to Him "so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming" (1 John 2:28).

Propagate our faith.

In light of Christ's imminent return, we should recognize the condition of the lost souls around us and across the world, resulting in sharing our faith with urgency (Matthew 28:18-20). But also, with the physical needs around us in the wake of a natural disaster, we must be faithful to share the love and compassion of Christ as we minister to people in His name. This involves understanding that these disasters "lead to an opportunity for your testimony" (Luke 21:13) and we must make the "most of each opportunity" (Colossians 4:5).

Scott Pace holds the Johnny Hunt Chair of Biblical Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is associate director of its Pastors Center.
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