When disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti strike, questions arise. Does God cause tragedy? Is it some sort of judgment? Why doesn't He prevent it in the first place?
January 28, 2010
By: Daniel A. Brown
We find ourselves reeling from the repercussions of the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12. Honest hearts look for answers amidst the countless questions. Normal people want assurances—including some way to make sense out of what has happened and why. And most of us want to know about God—and how He figures into all of this. Did God cause, or at least allow, it to happen? Why didn’t He prevent it? Is this disaster some sort of judgment rendered? Where does God stand?As is usually the case when people want to know where God stands, we tend to think in terms of whose side He is on. He doesn’t take sides; He defines the sides. He welcomes us to His side—that place of rest and peace from which all real understanding flows. But in an effort to clarify some of the misunderstandings that people have in such times of disaster and distress, let us look at what the Bible reveals about God’s place and perspective in such moments of international and personal grief. Question #1: Did God do this?Is what happened in Haiti part of God’s intentional plan for the affected people or their country? No. God’s plans are always redemptive—to restore what was lost and to give back life. The enemy of humankind steals, kills and destroys (and inspires people to do likewise), but Jesus’ plan is to give us life in abundance (see John 10:10). Whenever and wherever life, joy, bounty or good are taken away, the culprit is never the Lord.God has plans for us, and one hallmark of those plans is their orientation toward future hope. He is always interested in a better and brighter future for us (see Jeremiah 29:11); that’s why He offers us eternal life—not only life that goes on and on without any shade of death, but a quality of life that knows no sadness, regret or futility. That is also why He will one day make a new heaven and earth (see Revelation 21:1).“ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful’ ” (Revelation 21:4-5, NKJV).God’s overarching purpose for the world is that everyone would come into a saving relationship with Jesus, the One God has sent as a ransom payment for us (see John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:3-6). He wants no one to perish, and the death of even the most wicked person in the world causes Him grief: “ ‘Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord God, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?’ ” (Ezek. 18:23). Question #2: Was God bringing judgment against the victims or against the nation of Haiti because of their sin or ungodliness?No. Contrary to what many people imagine, God is not in the business of judging anyone right now; He has suspended the execution of His judgment, and He has placed all judgment into Jesus’ hands—meaning that Jesus has the final word (see John 5:22-24). Jesus has come to save people, not to execute them; whoever responds to His words passes out of judgment into life: “ ‘I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world’ ” (John 12:46-47).A Judgment Day is coming, when everyone who has rejected the offer of forgiveness will have to account for what they have said and done. God is storing up His wrath against such injustices and atrocities (see Romans 2:5-6; Jude 1:6).That means He is not executing judgment upon the earth now: “But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7).When people point a finger of judgment at others, they are usually making two huge mistakes: first, they forget that others’ sins are no more (or less) deserving of punishment than their own (see Luke 13:1-5); and, second, they forget that though Jesus does tell us to “sin no more” (see John 8:11), He does not punish us for the ones we have committed. Sin has consequences, but God does not add to the fallout of our sin by throwing in a few lightning bolts for good measure. Question #3: Why didn’t God prevent this?If God is all-powerful and good, how could He let something like this happen? Even if He did not do it, couldn’t He have prevented it?God is putting a stop to such terrible events by preparing a place for any who wish to go there—a place without the intrusion of evil or death. He is going to quarantine every wicked thought and power so that nothing wrong will be able to intercept us in heaven. In the meantime, He offers us all the opportunity to surrender our wayward will to Him.Question #4: What truths emerge from the rubble?There are several truths we can take away from times such as this.First, when people face disaster and death, their thoughts and desires go toward those they love. When all is said and done, we remember that the most important thing in life is love and relationship. That is exactly how God has always felt.Second, people are inclined toward great compassion, heroism and selflessness, but even such nobility of spirit is limited when confronting death. We are incredibly capable of helping each other through harrowing situations, saving people’s lives, preventing worse disasters and lifting others’ spirits, but all of our best efforts fray at the edge of eternity.And third, even the biggest of buildings was reduced to nothing in a matter of minutes, shaking everything in this life with its collapse. What looks so stable is actually very unstable. Everyone is looking to the spiritual dimension for certainty. Those without faith in God were shaken in their unbelief. We who believe in life beyond the limits of the natural world have not been shaken—for we know that the Lord is with us even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (see Psalm 23:4).= =By: Daniel A. Brown, founding pastor of The Coastlands (Aptos Foursquare Church) in California. A well-known author, speaker and pastoral mentor, he currently heads up Commended to the Word. Visit http://ctw.coastlands.org/ for more information and resources.