It is a classic question. “Why did God allow _______ to happen?” You can fill-in-the-blank with a variety of terms. Recently, this question has had to do with a rash of natural disasters that have struck Oklahoma and other areas. Anytime a disaster strikes, one of the first questions asked is, “Why did a loving God allow this to happen”. Even insurance companies describe disasters as “acts of God.” Funny that we should attribute negative things to God. Why not call the birth of a child an act of God or the miraculous healing of a person an act of God? Some might, but many do not think about God unless something disastrous takes place.
Although it is impossible to accurately pinpoint God’s intentions in every event, God has given us some principles with which to work found in the Bible. In the Bible, at least five possible reasons are given as to why God may allow disasters to strike.
God Allows Disasters to Occur Because of Judgment
Due to the rebellious nature of humanity, God has to keep things in check. Although this is not popular to mention in modern times, one can easily find examples of God bringing disaster upon certain immoral societies by disasters. The clearest example is found in the annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah. Did God destroy the cities by volcanic eruptions or was it by an asteroid? This writer thinks that it is the latter. Nonetheless, God delivered due to the moral corruption of the area. Prior to this time, God had allowed a massive flood to nearly wipe out humanity saving only a few faithful. In Habakkuk, God shows that God allows disaster to strike because of judgment. God says to Habakkuk, “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with violence! Is it not indeed from the LORD of hosts that peoples toil for fire, and nations grow weary for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:12-14, NASB). In Jonah, God allows a storm to take place due to Jonah’s rebellion. In Jonah, it is written, “The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up…Then (the sailors) said to (Jonah), ‘Tell us now! On what account has this calamity struck us?” (Jonah 1:4, 8a). Clearly from these examples, it can be seen that God does allow disasters to strike due to an overflow of human rebellion. One may ask, well why would God do this? Why WOULDN’T God do this? From the examples of Sodom, Gomorrah, and the days of Noah, the people were extremely wicked. Depravity had grown to the level of becoming reprobates…a condition where the hard has grown hard and repentance is nearly impossible. The people were not going to get better. So God protected the innocent by giving them a way out for those who would listen. Why would God bring judgment to Jonah? Well, it was through Jonah that the land of Nineveh would repent and be spared. Our rebellion may have effects on others. God must correct our paths from time to time. But this is not the only reason why God may allow disasters to occur.
God Allows Disasters to Occur to Build Our Faith
Humans have the innate desire to escape any and all pain and suffering. This is a natural response because pleasure is much nicer than pain. However, if we never went through painful experiences, would we be better or worse? It would seem that we would be much worse. Through difficult times, a person’s faith in God is built. What is the biblical definition of faith; dependency on God. Paul writes, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as it is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-5, NASB).
I love weightlifting. The process is intriguing. Before one can build muscle, one must first tear the muscle down by way of vigorous exercise. It is during the recuperation time that the muscle is built stronger. God does the same with us in our lives. To make us stronger, God must put or allow us to go through difficult circumstances in order to trust in Him more and to develop character in ourselves.
Cindy Smith is an exceptional lady. She is a member of our church. Cindy was born with cerebral palsy. The palsy makes it difficult for Cindy to accomplish things that would be taken for granted by most individuals. However, Cindy told me once that she embraced her palsy. According to her own testimony, she would not be the person she is today if it were not for having the palsy. Dr. William Lane Craig, one of the premier apologists of our day, had said the same thing about his medical condition. Craig has a medical condition which has kept him from playing sports to the level that he desired. However, he has said that having the disease has made him the man he is today. Instead of devoting his passion and competitive nature to sports, he did so with Christian apologetics. This is why that he is to this day feared by many atheists (including Richard Dawkins who has refused to debate him numerous times) and revered by many Christians. Another biblical explanation exists for why God may allow disasters to strike.
God Allows Disasters to Occur to Glorify Himself
It may sound arrogant to the skeptic. But, God does seem to allow disasters to happen so that God may be glorified. This glorification, however, is not to boast in Himself. Rather, this glorification is to show others that God is a reality and that people can trust in God. So the principle is, disasters do not always occur because someone did something wrong. See the example in John’s gospel. John writes, “As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him'” (John 9:1-3, NASB). The man did become an example of God’s glory. Jesus healed the blind man and everyone witnessed the power of God firsthand. Furthermore, the blind man became a witness of God’s power.
Think about the Oklahoma tornadoes. Yes the disaster was awful. But consider the power of God shown through the miracles that occurred in the aftermath. Think of the protection of God over the teacher who prayed over her class. Not a child was hurt in that classroom. Think of the compassion and love that was seen by Christians in this time of need. Someone even said, “Don’t count on the government to help out. Count on the Baptist men.” Isn’t that the way it is supposed to be anyhow? Shouldn’t the church stand in the gaps? There is another biblical reason why God may allow disasters to occur.
God Allows Disasters to Occur for Nature’s Benefit
Believe it or not, storms and disasters can hold benefit to nature. Dr. Hugh Ross stated at a recent conference that tornadoes can have a benefit for the land. It is being seen that tornadoes can plow up and distribute essential nutrients in the area. Also, tornadoes can clear out bad vegetation. For hurricanes, these massive cyclones can bring necessary rain and moisture to dry lands. Some areas depend on the moisture brought by these storms. Volcanoes are important for the earth as they create new land masses, provides healthy gases even by the poisonous gases, and even provide diamonds through the intense heat. God has made an amazing earth. Each person must take into an account for the possible disasters in the area in which they live. If you live near a volcano, one risks the chance that a volcanic eruption may take place. If one lives near an area that has hurricanes, one must be prepared for a hurricane to make landfall. If one lives near an area prone to massive tornadoes, one needs to be prepared. If one lives in a colder environment, one needs to be prepared for a massive snowfall each winter. That does not mean that it is any less heartbreaking when disaster strikes. But, this at least the person will not be as surprised when disasters strike. Job 38:34-37 says, “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that an abundance of water will cover you? “Can you send forth lightnings that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? “Who has put wisdom in the innermost being or given understanding to the mind? “Who can count the clouds by wisdom, or tip the water jars of the heavens, when the dust hardens into a mass and the clods stick together?” (Job 38:34–38, NASB). Things may occur for reasons we never know…which brings us to our final point.
God Allows Disasters to Occur Sometimes for Reasons Known Only to God
God is infinite and we are finite. Sometimes we will not understand the things of God because we cannot know all there is to know about God. When Job had questioned God about the difficulties that he had endured, he demanded an answer while his “so-called” friends gave possible answers. The friends gave accusatory answers blaming Job. They were wrong in the assessment. God stepped in the scene and gave a response to Job’s inquisition. God said, “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? “Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me! “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? “On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:1–7, NASB). The point of God’s answer was not arrogance but to remind Job that he would not have all the answers. Neither will we. God is the one who established everything in place. God is the only one who has all the answers. God knows how everything works together. In the end, God works everything together and for a purpose. We may not know the the purpose until we get into eternity. But, we can trust God in His love and infinite goodness that everything will work out in the end.
God has reasons behind things we cannot understand. Even when things look bleak and do not make sense, God can bring out some great things despite the problems we endure. Sometimes God may bring disasters for judgment against depraved societies. Other times God may allow disasters to take place to test our faith. At other times God may allow disasters to take place in order to glorify God and show God’s power to those who do not know God. Other times God may allow disasters to occur for the benefit of the natural order. Finally, disasters may occur for reasons known only to God. In the end, every worldview must deal with the reality of disasters and suffering. Some will choose not to believe in a loving God. But then, what hope does that person have? Does the person have hope in the midst of the storm? Does the person have hope beyond this life? What about justice? Are wrongs just allowed to occur with no ultimate consequence? When you understand the fact that God is a reality and that the gospel is true, then one can be filled with faith, hope, and ultimately love despite the storms of life that may come.
Love in Christ,
Pastor Brian Chilton