Where is God When the Earth Shakes?
- Monday, March 21, 2011
Over the past weeks, the reports, pictures, and videos following Japan's 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11 have overwhelmed us.
Since the initial earthquake, dozens of aftershocks have continued to shake the island nation including an aftershock with a preliminary magnitude of 6.1 that struck this past Tuesday in the eastern part of Honshu, Japan. Thousands of lives have been lost. Millions of people have been displaced or are without electricity or water. Explosions at the quake-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant raised more concerns about possible radiation leaks.
The fears of living on Planet Earth are not limited to the Japanese. Over the last several years, we have seen several earthquakes that have rocked our planet and our world. The people of China, Haiti, and Chile have witnessed how quickly an earthquake can change lives and take lives. Many around the world are living in fear of the natural, physical, and economic disasters looming ahead. In the Bible, we are told that earthquakes are ultimately from God. God does nothing without an infinitely wise and good purpose. “He also is wise and will bring disaster” (Isa. 31:2). “The LORD is good” (Ps. 100:5). Therefore, God has good and all-wise purposes for the heart-rending tragedies that are both public and private.
Every time a disaster happens anywhere in the world someone recklessly tell us it’s the judgment of God being poured out on sinful people. It has become increasingly difficult for me to think in those terms. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sin entered the equation, the entire creation was impacted. All creation fell and “has been groaning together with labor pains until now” (Rom. 8:22). Since fallen humans live in a fallen creation, we can expect disasters like the Japanese earthquake to happen from time to time. We use the term “natural disasters” because they can be expected to occur quite naturally in a fallen world. There are specific instances in the Old Testament where God used natural disasters to express his judgment on a nation or people. However, this was not the norm in ancient history. They too had their share of disasters occurring naturally in the context of a fallen world. In Luke 13:15 Jesus clearly teaches that tragedy is not necessarily the consequence of greater sin, for then none of us would escape. To begin with, he made it clear that human tragedies are not always divine punishments and that it is wrong for us to 'play God' and pass judgment. Rather, tragedy should be seen as a warning to all that unless they repent, a similar doom would come upon them. Job’s friends made this same mistake when they said that Job’s afflictions were evidence that he was a sinner. If we take that approach to tragedy, then we will have a hard time explaining the sufferings of the prophets and apostles, and even of our Lord himself. So the earthquake in Japan or other natural disasters yet to come do not need to be placed in the context of a judgment from God. If earthquakes are not God’s specific judgment on a specific people, then what is God’s purpose?
Indeed He has hundreds of thousands of purposes for all things in life (Rom. 8:28), most of which will remain hidden to us until we are able to grasp them at the end of the age. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”(Rom. 11:33-34). “The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
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