Some experts see an overall increase in the destructiveness of natural disasters, especially in the last few decades.
Officials fear the death toll may rise to over 2,000 from the recent earthquake in Colombia. The massive destruction left the country looking like a bombed-out relic of a war zone, with an estimated 200,000 left homeless, and many without clean water, sewage disposal, electricity or adequate food. Hurricane Mitch left 23,500 dead or missing in Central America. We have experienced the effects of "El Niño" and "La Niña".
A recent Life magazine article summarized, "Not since the Dust Bowl days of the 30s has meteorological mayhem so dominated headlines and minds....The rogue Pacific current known as El Niño began wreaking havoc around the world. Indonesia's jungles burned while Chile's Atacama Desert got a foot of rain. Snow fell in Guadalajara for the first time since 1881. Canada suffered its worst-ever ice storm. Floods killed thousands in Africa. In Peru endless downpours created a 2,300 square mile lake. Thunderstorms with hurricane-force winds trashed Moscow. The rain-swollen Yangtze River killed more than 400 as it cut a swath through central China."
All of this chaos is unsettling. While there have been cataclysms of greater immensity and intensity in our century, the distribution, variety and frequency of the recent unpredictable weather has been extraordinary. This past year has been the third most severe in a decade, tying that of 1982-83 as one of the century's worst.
Are upset weather conditions, earthquakes and natural disasters on the increase worldwide? Are there spiritual causes behind them or are they just the result of random, environmental happenings? Do disasters have any meaning or message for humankind today?
Some see natural disasters as nature's way of some monumental system of checks and balances, designed to control the world's population. To others it seems like pure happenstance, impure accidents or random violence that proceeds mindlessly out of a universe without a pattern.
However, Jesus mentions that many natural disasters, as we term them today, would be a sad reality of life throughout history and would build in impact as we approach the end of the age. He predicted: "There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines and calamities ; this is but a beginning of the intolerable anguish and sufferings " (Mark:13:8 Amplified). Various types of earthquakes, plagues and major upsets in the weather, including drought, floods, tidal waves, tornadoes, and hurricanes will continue to wreak havoc on countless thousands around the globe.
It is difficult to know for sure whether earthquakes and natural disasters are occurring at a greater frequency and intensity today. There is, at best, only sketchy information about the distant past. Some feel what appears to be an increase in natural disasters is in reality better record keeping and better reporting.
The National Earthquake Information Center for the U.S. Geological Center indicates, "We continue to hear from many people throughout the world that earthquakes are on the increase. Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant throughout this century and, according to our records, have actually seemed to decrease in recent years."
They indicate that a partial explanation may lie in the fact that over the last 20 years, more have been located each year because of the tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations and improved global communications. Scientists locate about 12,000 to 14,000 each year or approximately 35 per day.
However, they indicate that the effect of earthquakes has been "more pronounced." In spite of building safer structures, losses (both human and property) are greater. They suggest this is because the earth's population is increasing and more property exists that can be destroyed. Regardless of the frequency and intensity of earthquakes and natural disasters, their increased impact and destructiveness is certain.
Other experts also see an overall increase in the destructiveness of natural disasters, especially in the last few decades. Dr. William H. Hooke, Director of the U.S. Weather Research Program Office, of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, asked in a recent speech, "Is the seeming increase in the occurrence of natural disasters real?" He used the increasing annual cost of damage as a definite indicator that it is. The annual U.S. losses to natural disasters, while highly variable, have averaged $50 billion per year in the last few years, or roughly one billion dollars per week. Of even greater concern are long-term trends in costs, showing a doubling or tripling of damages each decade, in constant dollars, over the last 35 years.
Dr. Hooke indicates impact is increasing as a result of societal changes such as urbanization and technological interdependence. While disaster losses are expected to vary considerably from year to year, it is expected that they generally will continue to increase, as a fraction of the gross national product (GNP).
He indicates that the frequency, strength, and location of hazards-storms, floods, droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and wildfires-are intimately connected to "longer-period global change," whether due to natural variations or human-induced changes.
Random Natural Disasters
Today, many natural disasters appear to be "normal" environmental happenings, through natural environmental conditions that exist in God's creation.
God does not directly cause all natural disasters. Many are simply freak occurrences that strike at random. God in general has taken a hands off approach, letting mankind go his own way experiencing the fruit of his actions. Wise King Solomon observed, "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. For man also does not know his time: Like fish taken in a cruel net, like birds caught in a snare, so the sons of men are snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them" (Ecclesiastes:9:11-12).
Jesus Christ explained this principle of random destruction by giving an example of Pilate killing some Galileans in order to mix their blood with his sacrifices. "Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke:13:2-3, emphasis ours throughout). He goes on to give another example of the tower in Siloam falling on and killing people passing by (verses 4-5). Perhaps an earthquake caused its collapse. Regardless, the point Jesus was making is that natural disasters, circumstances or accidents can cut short human life for those who are caught by them.
This does not mean those who suffer this fate are necessarily more evil than others in society. However, disasters should send a warning message to us all. Repent and turn to God for protection while there is still time. "For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away" (James:4:14).
Manifestations of Divine Power
Earthquakes and environmental occurrences can also be manifestations of divine power. When God delivered the ten commandments from Mount Sinai, it was accompanied by thunder, lighting, thick clouds, smoke, and a great earthquake (Exodus:19:18). Jesus Christ's death was marked by a major earthquake to reinforce God's presence and power (Matthew:27:54; Matthew:28:2).
God, on occasion, will bring earthquakes and natural disasters to strike the rebellious in order to teach lessons or bring His righteous judgments. For example, God used an earthquake to strike down the rebellion of Korah against Moses and the leadership God had chosen. Notice, "and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods" (Numbers:16:32).
Cause and Effect
Since Eve bit the forbidden fruit, natural disasters have plagued mankind. Because Adam also chose to rebel against God, his descendants would have to struggle with the created environment to survive. Adam was told, " Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis:3:17-19).
History records man's constant struggle with foul environmental conditions to survive. Even today, one seventh of the human race, 840 million people, lives in conditions of chronic and persistent hunger. Every day 24,000 people die from hunger. Three quarters of them are children.
God has occasionally intervened in the course of human endeavors to bring blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. He told Israel, "But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments...I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze ...and your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit.... And I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of the covenant; when you are gathered together within your cities I will send pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy...when I have cut off your supply of bread " (Leviticus:26:14; Leviticus:26:19-20: Leviticus:26:25-26).
God also, on occasion, allows Satan to use various natural disasters to hurt or destroy people or their possessions. Job and his family, servants, animals and property were victims of Satan's direct attacks. In one day marauders killed with swords, fire from the sky struck and a great wind storm blew down Job's home, killing all his children. He lost nearly all of his physical possessions and immediate family (Job:1:13-19). God allowed Satan to humble Job, teaching him valuable lessons. Eventually, God in His mercy restored to Job twice as much as he had lost (Job:42:10).
At the time of the end Satan will inspire his representative, the false prophet, to perform signs and wonders using some natural looking phenomena like fire falling from heaven (Revelation:13:13). The Apostle Paul indicates: "The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved" (2 Thessalonians:2:9-10).
Some signs may be similar to those used by the Egyptian magicians. As a counterfeit to the miracles of God's power working through Moses, they brought natural disasters, rivers turning to blood, frogs, lice and flies plaguing the land (Exodus:7:21-22; Exodus:8:7,18).
Signs of the End Time
Earthquakes, and what we call natural disasters, will be major signs of God's power in the countdown of events leading toward the time of the end. They will be orchestrated by supernatural powers. God's end time servants, the "two witnesses," will be able to use fire to devour their enemies. They will "shut heaven, that it rain not in the day of their prophecy: and have power over waters, to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will" (Revelation:11:3-6 KJV). In addition, "thunders, and lightnings, and an earthquake," will precede the seven trumpet plagues and seven last plagues that bring massive destructive disaster to the ecosystem (Revelation:8:5-13; Revelation:11:19; Revelation:16:1-21; Joel:1:15-20; 2:1-12).
Even after Christ begins to reign on the earth the natural environmental elements will strike some nations who stubbornly continue to disobey (Zechariah:14:16-19). Until Jesus Christ returns to set up His kingdom, the impact and destructiveness of earthquakes and natural disasters will increase just as He predicted (Matthew:24:24). They will strike many unsuspecting people at random. Good and evil supernatural forces will utilize them more frequently as the end time approaches. The lesson we should learn is clear: repent and draw close to God for protection while there is time.
The good news is, eventually magnificent environmental blessings will be poured out on the obedient. Many biblical prophecies picture a utopian environment developing as a result (Isaiah:41:17-18; Micah:4:3-4; Amos:9:13). The fundamental cause behind the curse of natural disasters will be removed. The rebellion begun by the first Adam will at long last be stopped by the arrival of the second Adam, Jesus Christ (Isaiah:11:9-10).