Hurricane Katrina was the most costly natural disaster the United States had ever experienced. Yet in some respects Hurricane Sandy had an even greater impact. Why is America experiencing major national catastrophes, whether from nature or inflicted by enemies, such as the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001? Does the Bible provide answers?
Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen, via Wikimedia Commons
The end of October 2012 saw a storm unlike any other. A warm hurricane from the Caribbean crept northward to plow into a cold jet stream stretching as far south as Florida, and then collided with a powerful "nor'easter," all converging at the most heavily populated area of the northeastern United States—New Jersey and New York.
The largest Atlantic storm ever recorded, Hurricane Sandy took the lives of almost 200 people in seven countries and affected 24 U.S. states from Florida to Maine, as far inland as Wisconsin. Particularly hard-hit was New York City, where 32-foot waves from New York Harbor flooded tunnels, streets and subways and cut power to millions of people.
Damage was so severe and widespread that it will be difficult to calculate a final tally, but current cost estimates run as high as $50 billion for property damage, lost business and extra expenses for the millions of people affected by the storm. Insurance companies expect to pay out between $10 to $20 billion.
It wasn't that long ago that the world witnessed Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, resulting in the loss of more than 1,000 lives and over $100 billion in damages. Hurricanes are often enormously destructive. New Orleans remains a very important American city, but the greater New York megalopolis remains the economic and financial heart of the nation. Having mostly recovered from the effects of 9/11, New York City and its environs have suffered yet another major catastrophe.
Bloomberg Businessweek reported these statistics in mid-November: "At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent and underwater" (Paul Barrett, Nov. 11, 2012). Of course, recovery is far along, and thankfully the death toll and economic damage figures, bad as they are, will not come close to Katrina's.
But what about the next one—or the next? What is happening with the weather? As we will consider, the Creator God has told us in His Word, the Bible, that we would see a rise in such events with the approach of the end of this age.
Are natural disasters intensifying in power?
What are the effects of natural disasters? The Sept. 16, 2005, issue of Science magazine reported on research by scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. At that time the researchers concluded that while the number of hurricanes and cyclones had not increased, they "did find a sharp increase during the past 35 years in the number of category 4 and 5 tropical cyclones, the most intense storms that cause most of the damage on landfall" (Richard Kerr, "Is Katrina a Harbinger of Still More Powerful Hurricanes?" p. 1,807).
More specifically, these scientists found that the frequency of the most dangerous and damaging storms—those rated category 4 and 5—increased by 80 percent from the 1970s to the last decade.
Destructive storms are not the only kinds of natural disasters that seem to be on the rise. For instance, the December 2004 earthquake off Indonesia was the most powerful in decades, unleashing a massive tsunami that took some 300,000 lives—the greatest number of casualties from an earthquake in more than 500 years.
But as the Bloomberg Businessweek article above noted, an inordinate number of weather-related disasters are striking the United States. The article reports: "On Oct. 17  the giant German reinsurance company Munich Re issued a prescient report titled Severe Weather in North America. Globally, the rate of extreme weather events is rising, and 'nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America.'"
It further explains: "From 1980 through 2011, weather disasters caused losses totaling $1.06 trillion. Munich Re found 'a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades.' By contrast, there was 'an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe, and 1.5 in South America'" (emphasis added throughout).
An important prophecy of Jesus Christ
What light does Bible prophecy shed on this and other disasters? Consider Jesus Christ's Olivet Prophecy delivered to His disciples nearly 2,000 years ago (called so because He was speaking to them on the Mount of Olives on the east side of Jerusalem). "For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom," He told them, describing global trends in the time leading up to His return. "And there will be famines, pestilences [disease epidemics] and earthquakes in various places" (Matthew 24:7).
The Greek term translated earthquakes deserves a much closer look. The word here is seismos, from which we derive such English terms as "seismic" and "seismology"—referring to earthquake activity and the study of earthquakes. Strong's Lexicon defines it as "a commotion, i.e. (of the air) a gale, (of the ground) an earthquake—earthquake, tempest" (Strong's no. 4578).
So seismos encompasses a broader meaning than just the earth shaking. For instance, Matthew 8:23-27 records how a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee overtook Jesus' disciples in a boat while He slept aboard. He awoke and "rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm." The word used in verse 24 for this sudden, powerful storm is seismos, here translated "great tempest." The parallel gospel account in Mark 4:37 calls it a "great windstorm."
Clearly seismos can also refer to violent storms involving both wind and water. This term cannot be limited to just earthquakes, as we might assume. It can apply to hurricanes, typhoons and tornadoes as well as earthquakes.
Nature out of control
The Olivet Prophecy (found in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21) remains one of the most important prophetic discourses in the Bible. The chain of events it describes culminates in Christ's second coming. Jesus spoke of highly disturbing world conditions that would precede and accompany His return to the earth: "And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring" (Luke 21:25).
Indeed conditions will become so threatening that if Christ does not return to the earth and halt mankind's self-destructive ways, human life won't survive: "For then there will be great tribulation, such has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened" (Matthew 24:21-22).
But why will nature itself become more and more out of control? The answer may be surprising to those not familiar with the Bible. These disasters will increase because people's sins are worsening and becoming even more widespread. So much so that our Savior stated, " And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12)
The prophet Isaiah stated: "Look! The Lord is coming from heaven to punish the people of the earth for their sins" (Isaiah 26:21, New Living Translation). The "Lord" here is Jesus Christ, who along with God the Father is also God (see John 1:1-3, 14; Hebrews 1:1-3, 8). A major aspect of His return and the events surrounding it is judgment on rebellious humanity.
Yet during this time of national and international chaos, those who humbly repent of their sins and become converted will be protected: "Come My people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation is past" (Isaiah 26:20).
God makes a distinction between those who obey Him and those who do not. He always has! However, a word of qualification: It is certainly true that some Christians will be marked out for martyrdom—assuring their glorious future in the Kingdom of God. Christ told us not to fear those who kill the body and that's all they can do (Matthew 10:28).
Now what will you do?
Many Americans took notice of the sufferings of Hurricane Sandy. There was an outpouring of sympathy, and people from around the country tried to help out or donated money. Focused on the calamity, some people probably ceased from their typical trivial concerns and even wrongdoing for a while, as often happens with major disasters. Yet one of the Hebrew prophets tells us that faithfulness would be like the dew on the grass (Hosea 6:4). It would soon dissipate.
With Hurricane Sandy now out of the headlines, it's out of sight, out of mind. Football, basketball and hockey games will continue, with fans supporting their favorite teams. New movies will continue to hit theaters, and people will enjoy their usual diet of entertainment and escapism. For most around the world, life will continue without missing a beat.
But make no mistake: Our preoccupation with materialism is far off the mark of the biblical standards God requires. Shortly before Noah's Flood drowned the world and fire from the sky devoured the city of Sodom, people were going about their daily lives as if nothing bad was ever going to happen (Luke 17:26-30). How true that is today too!
Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), but the world of his day didn't believe him. And although Lot apparently sighed and cried over the sins of Sodom, no one there asked him for help in overcoming the inevitable effects of the sick lifestyles that prevailed in that doomed city (verses 7-8). Not even 10 righteous people could be found in it.
We at The Good News ask all of our readers to not just study the Bible but, more importantly, act on its truths. Our Beyond Today TV program , our many free booklets , our free Bible Study Course , our websites and our offices around the world are all available to help our readers to come to understand God's truth as revealed in His Word.
How would we like you to respond to the gospel of the Kingdom of God? We sincerely hope that you as a Good News reader will imitate the Bereans of Paul's day: "They received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). And then act accordingly— live by what the Bible teaches.
No matter what the nation does, you personally can swim upstream and, with God's help, change your own lifestyle to one devoted to His righteousness (Psalm 119:172). That is our fervent hope!