The recent splurge in stories emanating from natural disasters is surely creating fear and restlessness. Coming as it is just before Christmas activities, the heart-wrenching flood stories are replacing “joy to B.C. and the Atlantic provinces” with combined emotion of stress and helplessness.
Those who are watching the recent cycles of natural disasters in the form of earthquakes, wildfires and flood have been seeing a trend in the form of destruction and loss. Thankfully, the loss of lives has been minimal in B.C. and Canada compared to other areas in the world.
In recent times, earthquakes, especially in Asia and the Americas, have taken numerous lives. Mudslides have washed away entire villages in Central America and, a few years back, fear of bird flu mutating and invading the human race challenged any talk of growth in a nation’s GDP.
I wish I could distance myself from the questions raised by natural disasters. In some ways, it is easier for me to address human needs than to process such disasters theologically — to find reasons for massive suffering and death.
But I am beginning to question why we have this apparent mindless, meaningless madness of epic biblical proportions. Is God telling us something specific? Is this the beginning of the end?
On one hand, I wish I knew the definitive answers, but that requires me to be God himself.
Having been relieved of that privilege and responsibility, my next best option is to seek answers in his final revelation in the Bible.
Barring those absolute claims, I can only propose some likely, but tentative responses with scriptural, philosophical and circumstantial warrant.
Causes for unexplainable natural disasters are more complicated since the perpetrators seem invisible and their purposes incomprehensible.
When it comes to man-made disasters, we can identify someone to blame. For example, unstoppable natural causes of global warming have been overrun by human causes linked to human activity, need and even greed. Mere human existence, population growth and economic requirements produce ripe conditions for natural disaster.
The question of apparent randomness brings us to another factor in natural disasters.
Regardless of human contribution to nature’s distortion, whether directly or indirectly, short-term or long-term, we also factor in Satan’s role in random human suffering and death.
Satan defied God’s sovereignty and was cast out of heaven to Earth. Our Earth began to shudder and continues to tremble. That could explain why there are earthquakes occurring frequently.
Only when humans are present do complex natural phenomena — many of them observable to physicists — turn into disasters. If no one died, we would have simply viewed them as natural, even normal, events. Cataclysms only turn into catastrophes when humans are affected.
Nature is wobbly, infected and terrorized by Satan. He has been thrown down from heaven in eternity and toppled on earth in history. By sheer force of will and with his ongoing demonic influence, he continues his terrorist acts on earth.
Natural disasters are not “acts of God” like the insurance industry would describe nature’s fury. They could just as easily be “acts of Satan.” We can underestimate Satan’s power, but anything he does is under the determinative control of God.
In the above list of causes, we find many answers. But the question remains: Is there discernible divine meaning in natural disasters?
I wish I could mine the mind of God to offer absolute answers concerning bad incidents. This problem of clarification applies to good circumstances as well , but natural disasters do communicate meanings about humanity, God and history.
Natural disasters highlight man’s inability to predict and control. The quest of the secular humanist enterprise is deficient at its very premise because man is not the measure or foundation of anything. He is small, weak and at the mercy of the elements. Natural disasters call for humility before God and remind believers to find their security in him.
Yet natural disasters can showcase human resilience and perseverance. People return to the same location and rebuild from scratch. Humans rebuild in the very areas prone to floods, hurricanes and earthquakes. That might be viewed by some as foolish, but they show human capacity to create something livable out of rubble against great odds.
In fulfilment of the God-given mandate to rule nature (Gen.1:26,27), we can flourish precisely where we have endured calamity.
Natural disasters may bring out the best in compassion and community. Christians, with their special obligation to love their neighbours, ought to serve in the forefront of aid and relief efforts with unselfish abandon and generosity.
Lastly, natural disasters induce reflection and repentance. In the face of disasters — be they man-made (Luke 13:1-3) or natural (Luke 13:4) — we must repent and evidence fruit (Luke 13:6-9).
So I invite you to reflect on important questions of personal submission, including:
• Are we rightly related to God? To people? To things?
• Do we also read divine meaning into blessings?
• Do we carry a high enough view of God’s holiness and his power? A stark enough view of his judgment?
• Do we have a strong enough view of heaven? A short enough view of earth? A frail enough view of life?
• Do we have a bad enough view of sin? An eager view of Christ’s return?
Narayan Mitra is a volunteer chaplain at Thompson Rivers University. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. KTW welcomes submissions to its Faith page. Columns should be between 600 and 800 words in length and can be emailed to email@example.com. Please include a very short bio and a photo.