For the past week, almost everyone I speak to is concerned about the effects of hurricane Harvey which struck Houston, Texas with a vengeance. Dropping over 52 inches of rain water in many places, the storm ravaged and pounded the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico. Making landfall and turning inland, the massive storm wreaked havoc and brought major destruction to the state of Texas.
Millions of dollars have been donated to help with relief efforts. Many high-profile individuals have donated $1 million each to well-publicized charities. Americans are generous people, especially when disaster strikes. There have been remarkable, sacrifices made by many to rescue and relieve the sufferings of many. Someone has observed that the worst circumstances have brought the best in people.
In recent years, we have witnessed many horrific phenomena, especially connected with the weather. Hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes and floods are among weather events, which are usually termed “natural disasters.”
dictionary.com defines a natural disaster as: “any event or force of nature that has catastrophic consequences, such as avalanche, earthquake, flood, forest fire, hurricane, lightning, tornado, tsunami, and volcanic eruption.”
Not too long ago, customary contract language referred to such phenomena as “acts of God.” Since our current culture refutes (or at best ignored us) the existence of God, it shuns the mention of him. Things have changed. As a culture, we think and act as if we have outgrown the concept of deity. So now, we must ask the question…
What is an act of God? Again, we may turn to our trusty online friend, dictionary.com to discover the meaning.
act of God – a direct, sudden and irresistible action of natural forces such as could not reasonably have been foreseen or prevented, as a flood, hurricane, earthquake, or other natural catastrophe.
So, what’s the difference between an act of God and a natural disaster?
One quick answer would be to say about, “About 25 or 30 years.” But that would skirt the issue. As I looked on the internet’s “infallible” search engine, Google, I noticed an entry which suggested that “natural disaster is an atheistic way of referring to a catastrophic act of nature.”
So then, what is an act of nature? Here are some suggestions from Google: accident or freak accident, circumstances beyond one’s control, earthquake, hurricane, inevitable accident, unavoidable casualty, etc.
Not to be too picky, but these seem to be examples of acts of nature, not a definition. So, what is an act of nature? To define “act” is relatively easy. An act is something done, and action. Thus, an act of nature is something done by “nature.”
You can probably guess the next question. What is nature? Once again, and in order to be consistent, we will turn to dictionary.com.
Here, we learn that nature is a noun. The following definitions are offered:
- The natural world, especially as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities;
- The natural world as it exists without human beings or civilization;
- The elements of the natural world as mountains, trees, animals or rivers;
- Natural scenery
- The universe, with all its phenomena.
- The sum total of the forces at work throughout the universe.
- Reality, as distinguished from any effect of art– e.g. A portrait true to nature
From the above definitions, number 6 is the only one which could appear to accomplish any action or could accommodate the ancient adage “mother nature.” Still, the definition is intentionally impersonal and vague.
Thus, we are given the impression that things occur randomly, without reason or cause. There is no rational control over circumstances confronting us. No wonder, people often think that things are “out of control.”
This, however, is not the viewpoint, which helped to forge our civilization; neither is it a Christian understanding. God has revealed in his Word that he himself is active in sustaining and directing his creation. Moreover, his creatures, both animate and inanimate take actions, both good and bad. These actions further result in more actions called consequences. Yet, throughout all of this activity, God remains in control. So much so that, as Jesus, said, not even a sparrow will fall without your Father… (Mt. 10.29).
Jesus both reflected and taught the consistent perspective of the Scriptures in his actions and teaching. For instance, he taught his disciples to pray and make requests to God. Does not this assume that God is not only able but also willing to intervene in his creation?
Again, when teaching his disciples to love their enemies, Jesus instructed us to emulate our Father in heaven. “… For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45, ESV)
So, God sends the rain on both good and evil people.
Although Jesus did not speak directly about natural disasters, there is a passage about what we would call a “national disaster.”
Once, when Jesus was teaching his followers, someone brought up two well-known and recent tragic events (Luke 13.1 – 5). The first involved Pilate, the Roman governor, who executed some Galileans as they were worshiping. The other concerned 18 Jews who were killed when the Tower of Siloam fell on them.
This kind of disaster was commonly understood to be divine judgment for unusual or extreme wickedness. Jesus, usually very compassionate to those who are suffering, surprised his hearers and refuted the idea that the incident was the result of extraordinary sinfulness. Instead, he instructed them (and us!) of the need for personal repentance. He interpreted the occasion as a warning for future judgment.
So, the devastation of hurricane Harvey is rightly understood as a warning to us. Although God is patient in punishing people who rebel against him, the time will surely come when all people will be held accountable for their actions and lives.
One day, this same Jesus will come as judge. Rather than trying to assign blame to others for their shortcomings, Jesus calls us to repent and turn to him for forgiveness.
Disasters are warnings of a future judgment. Repent now before it is too late. Repent and believe the gospel. Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.