2017 saw increasing incidences of natural disasters – a volcano waiting to erupt in Bali, forest fires in Southern California, tropical storms in the Philippines… It might be tempting to dismiss these phenomena as climate change, or even put away newspapers to avoid further despair, but as Christians, we should not. While the world reacts in horror and fear, Christians can find comfort in these disasters. Let us put on our spiritual lenses and seek to understand them in light of the Bible.
The first and greatest natural disaster recorded in the history of mankind is the Great Flood in Genesis 6-9. Its scale of destruction is unparalleled, and only eight souls, seven of each clean beast, and two of each unclean beast survived. With the Flood, God set a precedent of how His people should view and respond to such happenings (Matt. 24:37-39).
God is sovereign
From the account of the Flood, it is stark that God directed the whole event, as He does with the entire world since its inception. From who would be saved and otherwise be destroyed, what Noah had to do to build the ark, how the wicked were destroyed by the furious water, to when it was the right time for Noah to leave the ark and so on, God was in full control.
These days, the intensity and frequency of natural disasters is increasing in diverse places all around us, but knowing that these all happen under the mighty hand of God, we need not be frightened. Furthermore, God has forewarned us that these will happen in Revelation 6 and Matthew 24. We are not at the mercy of chance, or a geoscientific process that we have to try desperately to prevent.
We might wonder why a sovereign God allows such calamity to befall the world in our day. The beautiful creation is torn apart – animals perish, men, even His beloved people, succumb to earthquakes and floods. How could a God of love and peace allow such unpleasantness? We then have to remember that God is a just God.
God is just
Being just, God cannot stand sin and has to punish man for sin. In Genesis 6:5-7, we learn that the Flood was executed out of judgment against the wickedness of the people, who were consumed in fleshly lusts and thought evil continually. As such, the Flood was sent to purge the wicked from the face of the earth.
Unlike the Flood which was sent specifically to destroy the wicked, the natural disasters in our present time occur due to a corrupted world. Just like how man was tainted with sin, the creation is inherently corrupted and no longer perfect. Extreme weather conditions, drought, volcanic eruptions and others all lie on a spectrum of natural dangers that cause much pain and risk to life, which would not have existed in the perfect creation before the fall.
While the natural world was ruined after the fall, this state was exacerbated by Man’s actions. Sinful man no longer used his dominion over the creation to serve God, but himself. We think of forest logging for profits at the expense of the ecosystem and the resultant floods due to rising river beds, burning inefficient fuel sources that is easier on the pocket, but emits more carbon into the atmosphere, causing global warming and rising sea levels. The catastrophes are God’s judgment on the corrupt world.
It is no wonder that the whole creation and the people of God wait for our redemption from corruption (Rom. 8:21-23). How can God’s people find comfort while we have to endure this?
God loves His elect
In God’s mercy, He will remember and redeem His people, like He did with His servant Noah. In His sovereignty, He had chosen to save Noah and effected his salvation from the Flood. In His justice, He sent Christ to die and wash away Noah’s and our sins.
Why are Christians not immune from the fury of disasters? Even when Christians jointly suffer with unbelievers such ill, we know that what is to them a savour of death unto death is to us a savour of life unto life. We take comfort that our earthly suffering and death is not a punishment from God as our sins are covered by Jesus’s blood. Furthermore, just like how1 the high waters of the Flood lifted the ark nearer towards heaven, we rejoice at going to a better place, where we have communion with God forever. In the same vein, all the disasters, diseases, pain and struggles, are all part of a corrupt world. However, God uses these for the good of those who love Him.
What is our response then and what does God require of us?
First, we have to beware of spiritual complacency. We, like the sons of God in Noah’s day, are not immune from spiritual apostasy and adulteration. If we are attracted to things of this world, let us remember that the things of the world are temporal, and will be destroyed by fire in the last day (2 Pet. 3:6-7); only the Word of God and our soul will go beyond the grave.
Second, we have to maintain a lively faith in God. Noah’s faith in God is a great example of the extent to which we should place our faith in God – it cost him his reputation. He was likely ostracized and mocked by people for preparing for a deluge when there was not a drop of rain since creation. This faith was borne out of a close walk and obedience to God. Do we often find ourselves an unpopular minority in our faith? Let us remember that God’s approval is our goal, not man’s (Gal. 1:10).
Third, we have to live out our faith in full obedience to God. When Noah entered the ark, he was forsaking his worldly possessions for God’s cause. He had to bear with the confinement in and inconveniences of the ark, in order to be preserved for a new world. So let us remember Christ’s command for us to deny ourselves in sufferings, and devote ourselves to the service of His Kingdom.
The world that we live in is becoming more and more like the world before the Flood. Let us learn from Noah, to walk with God and obey His commands, that we may find grace in the eyes of the Lord in final judgment.
1 Matthew Henry Commentary on Genesis 7:18.
Written by: Lisa Ong | Issue 48