Someone sent me a recent article by John Piper, Reformed Baptist preacher and best selling author, titled, Fierce Tornados and the Fingers of God. The opening sentence was as terrible to me as the tornados themselves: “Why would God reach down His hand and drag His fierce fingers across rural America killing at least 38 people with 90 tornadoes in 12 states, and leaving some small towns with scarcely a building standing, including churches?”
Do most people just assume that God is behind all natural disasters? Do you? No believer can deny God’s judgments without tossing the Bible. But do all natural disasters lead to God, like “all roads lead to Rome”? Insurance companies seem to think so—based on their famous (or infamous) insurance clause indicating they don’t cover, “acts of God.”
The Dead Don’t repent
One answer for these questions is found in Christ’s words to believers in the face of a tragedy that killed 18 persons:
“Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5, NKJV).
Christ did not spend time arguing about who was to be blamed for the tragedy. Instead, He reminded His listeners that tragedies are a wakeup call. So should we assume that God sends natural disasters to make us repent of our sin? If that’s the case, we could conclude that everything on planet earth would be just fine without God and His continual efforts to force us to repent.
The apostle Paul was clear when he said, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
Biblically speaking God’s goodness precedes life-destroying judgments. Dead people don’t repent. Besides, as with this latest tragedy, we often see churches and people who attend them, even innocent babies, struck down along with everyone else. Are these really God’s “fierce fingers?”
The Fingers of Satan
The reason why innocent babies and even steadfast believers suffer and die is clearly answered in the Bible. The particulars are recorded for our present benefit in the book of Job. This story involved a good man so it could not be said that God was punishing him for some secret sin (though this didn’t stop his religious friends from saying it).
In the story of Job, the devil comes strolling into the assembly room of God claiming that this earth belongs to him (makes sense to me considering all the pain on the planet). So God allows an experiment for our benefit. In this “case study” we get to see what happens to evil-hating, God-loving human beings when God is taken out of the picture. Roll Job chapter one:
“So the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your power… Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord,” and the next thing you know, Job’s one thousand oxen, five hundred donkeys, and three hundred camels have been stolen, seven thousand sheep have been burned up by the “fire of God,” all but three of Job’s servants have been killed, and all ten of his children are crushed to death by a tornado like natural disaster (Job 1:12, 15, 19).
Not a pretty picture, is it? Did you notice that God was quickly blamed—i.e. “the fire of God” (there’s our insurance clause mentality). Additionally, this “act of God” mentality led believers to blame the victim. Enter Job’s three friends. Religious and theologians in their own right, these three are sure that these calamities proceeded from God on account of some secret sin. But they were wrong, not only about Job, but about God (Job 42:7-8). Satan, the author of sin and all its results, had led these men to look upon disease and death as proceeding from God—as punishment arbitrarily inflicted on account of sin. Consequently, in his great affliction, Job had the additional burden of being regarded as a great sinner. The story of Job is a lesson designed to prevent this kind of thinking. The history of Job shows that suffering is inflicted by Satan, and is overruled by God for purposes of mercy.
Save the Planet-People
Okay, so Job’s story shows us what happens when God is taken out of the picture. Now let’s see what happens when the devil is taken out and God runs the world. Roll Revelation 21:1-4:
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
“Passed away”—that’s a modern term for dead. In God’s world the devil and death will be dead. How sweet is that! Can you imagine a planet with no evil—not a single drop? God can. His plan is written for us in the Bible in hopes that we would catch the vision. This is the final destination of planet earth and God wants you to have a part of it, an eternal part. Presently the earth is breaking down under the curse of sin and Satan (Isaiah 51:6; Revelation 12:12). Our save-the-planet good intentions may be misdirected—if our goal is to make planet earth our savior. There is already a plan in place to save the planet. The greater need is to save the people on the planet—the planet people—us.
God Will Do Nothing…
In the story of Job, Satan went to heaven to claim his right to destroy people, but in the story of Jesus, God came to earth to claim His right to save people. In the end, no theological answer can compare to the personal presence of “God with us” in all our suffering (Matthew 1:23; 1 Peter 4:1).
“In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9).
All the pain, evil and terror on planet earth break God’s heart. Yet, there are times when God brings judgments to those who are chillingly wicked. These divine judgments are consistently preempted by a warning message. “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7; you may want to read that a couple of times noting that it is an emphatic statement). The proof:
Noah first warned, then God sent a flood.
Angels warned of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Jonah warned Ninevah.
Prophets warned Jerusalem.
And, even now, God is warning the world of the seven last plagues (Revelation 14:6-12).
Apart from these obvious direct judgments, the “prince of this world,” “the prince of the power of the air,” is ravaging the earth, bringing calamity, destruction and death, as he did to Job, without warning (John 12:31; Ephesians 2:2). The prince of this present world has one goal for us—extermination (1 Peter 5:8).
Sometimes Disasters Are Simply Natural
In addition, sin has resulted in some major geographical alterations to the planet—meaning that natural disasters are often just that, natural. Coal and oil frequently ignite and burn beneath the surface of the earth. Rocks are heated, limestone is burned, and iron ore melted. The action of the water upon the lime adds fury to the intense heat and causes earthquakes, volcanoes, and fiery issues. As the fire and water come in contact with ledges of rock and ore, there are heavy explosions underground, like muffled thunder. The air is hot and suffocating. Volcanic eruptions follow; and these, often failing to give sufficient vent to the heated elements, the earth itself is convulsed, the ground heaves and swells like the waves of the sea, great fissures appear, and sometimes cities, villages, and burning mountains are swallowed up. Christ warned that these powerful natural disasters would be more frequent and intense leading up to His second coming and the end of the world (Matthew 24:3, 7-8).
Selfishness Creates Suffering
And let’s not forget the human element and our own tampering with “mother nature.” In fact, most of the suffering on planet earth can be traced to our selfishness. Wars are ignited for monetary gain, animals are fed to satisfy our lust for flesh while millions starve, diseases flourish because cures are unprofitable and technology languishes unless it produces profits. The temple of this world is filled with thieves and robbers and will soon be cleansed by the righteous judgment of a loving Father. No, Christ did not spend time arguing about who was to blame for natural tragedies. In the science of the Bible it’s obvious. The book of Job exposes the devil by hiding the Father. The life of Christ exposes the devil by revealing the Father. In the end, there is one clear and simple statement that sums up the whole business:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, NASB).