The devastation of the tornado that hit Joplin, MO, was compared by town residents to the aftermath of a nuclear disaster. Hit by the deadliest tornado of the past 50 years, the town of Joplin has been hit with a death toll of 139 people, unspecified hundreds still missing and over 8,000 homes and buildings destroyed. Cars were literally stacked on top of each other from the force of 200 mph winds. As the reeling town seeks to recover from one of the worst natural disasters in American history, there have been many efforts to help (including some outstanding work by Christian relief groups like Samaritan’s Purse. For information on how you can help the people of Joplin, see here). But soon questions often turn to God and His role in the midst of such a tragedy. And the principal question normally turns to: why would God allow something like this to happen?
This is not an easy question, but is one that is natural to ask. For those who believe in God, are agnostic or just not sure, the impact of a natural disaster, where human will and technology are powerless against it, will often make one start questioning God’s role. Because, as the thinking goes, if there is a God, and this God is a loving, kind God, then why allow such destruction to take place? And fortunately, the Bible has several answers to this very perplexing question.
1) Humanity brought death and destruction to the world: This Earth was not the way God intended. When The Lord made everything in the week of creation as described in Genesis 1, and put man in the Garden of Eden, the world was a far different place. God created man and woman to live forever. It was never intended for our first parents, Adam and Eve to die. In the Garden of Eden, God had planted a tree of life that would sustain them and allow them to live forever. He put humanity in a paradise where all of our needs were provided for. And not only were there no natural disasters, it did not even rain. But in breaking God’s main commandment, in eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve lost those privileges for humanity. Their sin allowed Satanic influence, sin and death to enter into the equation. The Bible tells us:
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).
So it was humanity’s choice to do evil that forfeited the paradise of the Garden for being in a world where we can die. Where we can now be sick. Where we can now suffer catastrophe. We can also now hurt each other. Whether it is genocide, robbery or assault on women and children, it is human beings choosing to do these things to others out of their free will. Any why? Because of sin. It is our sin that has caused the separation from God, the spiritual confusion in the world and the physical decay of every person and this planet. And every human on the planet, because of our flesh inherited from the same two parents, are all prone to sin. In short, The only thing that can stop and reverse the cycle of death of all thing is the belief in Jesus Christ as Savior.
2) We can Be Tested: Yes, we can be tested with tragedy. Now that our repeated sin has brought us under judgment of God and condemned, we can also be tested, even if we are Christian believers. In fact, the Bible guarantees suffering and trials as a believer. It is a part of the development and maturity of our faith:
12Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 13But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. (2 Peter 4).
The Christian life is about not putting all of our stock in this present cursed world. It is about looking to the Heavenly realm and thinking about things from the eternal perspective. And the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ, should be something to rejoice over all the time, even in a tragedy. So Christians can have their faith tested because in the midst of struggle, it becomes so clear how much we need and must rely on The Lord God just to make it through. And in that we cry out to Him in prayer and He is pleased. Tragedies like the Joplin tornado make it clear just how small we as humans can be sometimes. And at those times we need to acknowledge God the most and not be angry or curse Him. So how do we do at this test? Some do well , some do not. And unbelievers are being tested to. These types of events will bring many who never wanted to acknowledge God to their knees. But do they stay there? Do people feel a change in their hearts to start worshiping God? To see an illustration of this, let’s look at another tragedy, that turned out not to be tragic.
The Miracle on the Hudson
Many remember the story of the commercial airliner that was traveling over New York City that was hit by a flock of geese which so damaged the plane that it caused an engine failure and was falling out of the sky on its way to crash into New York city. But the pilot maneuvered the plane over the Hudson River and successfully landed it flat on the water and all 155 passengers survived. Now how many people would you suspect were praying on that flight once the plane went down? How many were crying to God to save them? This author would guess many, many people were. It is one of the most universally feared scenarios, being aboard a plane that is literally falling out of the sky. Yet despite the fact that the “miracle” occurred, here are some of the reactions of the passengers and public officials on the amazing day:
” “The pilot certainly did a masterful job of landing and everybody worked together.” — Mayor Bloomberg
“You’ve got to give it to the pilot he made a hell of a landing,” he added.” – Passenger Jeff Koodjay
“I can’t believe he managed to land that plane,” echoed Alberto Panero, a passenger who spoke to CNN by telephone.
“He was phenomenal,” passenger Joe Hart said.
How easily is God forgotten in these situations. The public turned the pilot (who did indeed to an amazing job) into a hero. But we saw no rally for God. No credit for the answered prayers as every person survived and there were only minor injuries. So how strong was the faith of those who could not even give credit to the same God they were just praying to in the worst situation of their lives? How often do we remember God and glorify Him when good things happen to us or in the world? Or is it just in tragedy that we seek to acknowledged His “role”? This is the testing of our faith. Tragedies and miracles can show if our heart is really with God continually or at times that are convenient.
3) Satan is at work against us – The clearest illustration of the Devil, the enemy of humanity bringing something similar to the Joplin tornado to someone’s life is in the book of Job. Satan was permitted by God to afflict Job, if he so chose, and Satan did not hesitate to bring tragedy into Job’s life: “While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house: And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” (Job 1). Satan had brought a natural disaster in the form of something similar to a tornado (or maybe could have been an actual tornado) that destroyed the home of Job’s son and killed his children. And Job’s response to this news is telling: “Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, 21And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. 22In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” Instead of making accusations out of anger at God, Job worshiped him. In these kinds of tragedies instead of blaming The Lord, many people forget to look to Satan as the cause of destruction and much of the suffering in this world. In fact, Satan’s name rarely even comes up when disasters occur and the spiritual implications and reasons are debated or discussed. But the Bible teaches that Satan can afflict humanity and will as soon as he is given the opportunity.
1 Peter says: 8Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. Since the days of the Apostles, the Devil has been sought to devour Christians and ruin our witness. And the counter for this is to hold on and stand on faith in order to resist him. Do not let Satan’s devices turn anger or wrath to God. Instead stay faithful to The Lord and He will restore us. The very next verse in 1 Peter 5 states: 10But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.
4) Sometimes we are not told: In the story of Job, God in conversation with Satan, allowed the devil to carry out all manners of attacks on Job, who was the most righteous man in the world at that time. As a result of humanity’s link to Satan (through our sin — see Ephesians 2:1-2), not only are we subject to death and decay, we also have given evil spirits the opportunity to affect us as well. Job lost his wealth, his children and was covered in sores from head to toe from disease. His life had completely fallen apart. Through it all he did not get angry with God or lose his faith. However, he did question The Lord on why this was happening to him. And in response, God did not answer his question directly. He never informed Job about Satan’s desire to attack him and the permission that was granted (i.e., Job was not being “punished” for sin). Instead The Lord informed Job about how He, God, created the universe, the stars, the Earth, the mountains, the seas, sets weather patterns and all the things that are in nature. God wanted Job to understand how vast God is and how much higher His thinking and reasoning is.
The Lord is not subject to human standards or thinking. Sometimes we do not know God’s purpose for a specific thing happening even as we seek answers. But we can put faith in that if we believe in Christ as our Savior, that ultimately everything works out for us. When Jesus was on Earth and His apostles encountered a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus whose sin caused the blindess, the mother’s or the father’s. And Jesus answered: “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” (John 9). Soon enough that man’s faith in Christ would bring him a healing of his blindness. When he encountered the Messiah, he was not angry or bitter. He was humble and thankful. This is why faith is so important. This world, as it exists is not going to last. The Lord is going to restore, order, peace and harmony in it after the Second Coming of Christ. And we are guaranteed to be part of it when we have Christ as our Savior. There will be a time when God is going to intervene and put a stop to evil, permanently. And it is our task to recognize this and make sure we are on His side. The Joplin Tragedy is proof positive that we do not know how much time we have left on this Earth. The time is now to get right with The Lord and know confidently, that when death, sin and evil have been removed from this Earth, you will be left standing, forever.