A youth of 9 named Muklis sat talking about the tsunami that swept his father and mother into the sea. He had vainly attempted to save his father. He later found his mother dead after the waters receded. Although both his parents perished, his 6-year-old sister Siti escaped harm.
Thousands of children like them in Indonesia and other Asian nations have been orphaned by these waves of destruction. What is to happen to them? Who will raise these children to adulthood? Will life here ever be close to normal again?
Nothing like it
No one had seen anything like it. Colin Powell, then U.S. secretary of state, had witnessed the worst of natural disasters and war, but said he had seen nothing to compare to this. The tsunami killed outright more than 280,000 people living in a dozen nations around the Indian Ocean and many others visiting the area from 36 nations. Still more died in the aftermath.
The grief is incomprehensible. In the immediate aftermath, one doctor saw inconsolable grief, ranging from hysteria and stupor to catatonia. It was simply too much for the mind to grasp. One woman who lost her entire family said she wished she had died in the tsunami too.
The stories go on and on. The numbers give staggering scope to this tragedy, but behind each number is mind-numbing grief for the survivors. Some will never recover from the effects.
Somehow such a mammoth event just doesn’t fit into our version of life, our worldview. We desire a secure and safe life, but when death strikes in such proportions to an unsuspecting part of the human race, with what seems to be such callous disregard to young and old alike, we are nagged with questions that undermine our confidence in our world.
It is interesting that in the weeks following the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, various media accounts warned of future events that could easily occur with even worse loss of life.
We were informed of the volcano in the Canary Islands that could drop half a mountain into the Atlantic Ocean and conceivably cause a 160-foot wave to engulf the eastern coast of the United States. Then there is the slow buildup of pressure in a massive magma chamber underlying Yellowstone National Park that would destroy all life for hundreds of miles around if it explodes.
Theologians attempt explanations
This is all bigger than us. So we turn to the only concept big enough for us to associate with such power—God Almighty. We need not assign blame to a country, an evil dictator, weapons of mass destruction or even the weather. When the ground beneath our feet shakes, we begin to see that we have focused so much on “civilisation’s potential to destroy the planet that we have forgotten that the planet also has an untamed ability to destroy civilisation too” (Martin Kettle, The Guardian , Dec. 28, 2004).
In Australia, where I live, several theologians have entered the picture with their explanations. Philosophy seems inadequate to deal with the magnitude of this monster wave and is virtually silent on the subject.
This tsunami is becoming the new benchmark for measuring the impact of natural disasters. So how do we now explain the world we live in? How can we reconcile such merciless horror with an unwavering belief in a good and beneficent Creator? Is God involved in this or not? Many theologians have attempted various explanations.
The Anglican dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen, provoked a storm of protests among religious leaders of all faiths when he characterized the tsunami as “a warning of God’s judgment.” The Australian newspaper reported that the chief executive of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Amjad Mehboob, said that it could not have happened unless it was God’s will.
There were dissenting views as well. A Catholic dean, a senior rabbi and the president of the Hindu Council of Australia said that they do not see God as causing natural disasters or using them to punish the wickedness of victims. Dean Jensen felt that his statement had been taken out of context as writers and commentators also took umbrage with his view.
There is no doubting Dean Jensen’s meaning, however, as it seems he is associating the tsunami with God’s judgment. When asked if the tsunami was the will of God, he replied:
“Yes, the will of God in this world involved his creation of this world, but it also involves his judgment upon the sinfulness of humanity and it also involves his salvation of people through the death and resurrection of his son. And so all the beautiful things we see in this world are an expression of his creative goodness to us and all the disasters of this world are part of his warning the judgment is coming, and both these things should focus our mind on the death and resurrection of his son and how he saved us.”
In questioning Jensen’s explanation, the Jan. 4 editorial page of The Australian said: “It seems more than 140,000 people, of many religious faiths, and none, have died in the most appalling international disaster. Any idea their deaths were due to their individual failings, or that they died as a warning to the rest of us, defiles the memories of tens of thousands of men and women, and the most innocent of children.”
Is this punishment from God?
We have already seen in living color the “what”—the event, the damage, the carnage, the anguish, the results. It is now time to ask “why?” How do we now make sense of it all? Why did God allow this disaster? Could the tsunami be His will? If so, how? And why? What could possibly be His purpose?
Perhaps we should consult God Himself and ask if He sends natural disasters to punish people. Consider the illustration in Luke 13:1-5 Luke 13:1-5 1 There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
2 And Jesus answering said to them, Suppose you that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?
3 I tell you, No: but, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.
4 Or those eighteen, on whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think you that they were sinners above all men that dwelled in Jerusalem?
5 I tell you, No: but, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.
American King James Version×where Jesus was told of a recent horrifying incident. The Roman governor Pilate had worshippers killed while they were offering sacrifices at the temple.
Perhaps the bearers of the story wanted Jesus to take a position on the injustice of Pilate’s action. Jesus chose to make a more important point. He asked them: “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.”
Christ reinforced His point with the example of an accident in which 18 people were killed when a tower collapsed on them. “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem,” Jesus asked, because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time? His emphatic answer again was “No!” He made the more relevant point that everybody is in the same boat. We are all going to perish if we don’t repent. This is His message.
While some are indeed “worse sinners” than others, we cannot say that, in this age of man, God is in the business of specifically punishing the more sinful and giving leniency to the less sinful.
Does God correct nations?
We should also ask if God has ever threatened a nation because they were wicked. Indeed there are examples where God has decreed the demise of those who continue to transgress His law. A clear example is the ancient city-state of Nineveh. God sent Jonah to tell its citizens that they needed to change their barbarous ways or they would be destroyed in 40 days. The whole city heeded Jonah’s message and repented.
God’s nation of Israel knowingly departed from Him in a systematic and deliberate manner. The Creator was very involved with the Israelites and they became a great nation as a result of God’s direction and blessing. They had agreed in a covenant at Mount Sinai to follow the one true Creator God (see Exodus 24). They may not have been as barbaric as Nineveh, but they were certainly more accountable. They knew the outcome of disobedience before they even began their long relationship with God.
Then there are the Amalekites, on whom God decreed punishment for heartlessly ambushing the helpless stragglers at the rear of the Israelite column as they came out of Egypt (1 Samuel 15:2 1 Samuel 15:2Thus said the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.
American King James Version×; Deuteronomy 25:17-19 Deuteronomy 25:17-19 17 Remember what Amalek did to you by the way, when you were come forth out of Egypt; 18 How he met you by the way, and smote the hindmost of you, even all that were feeble behind you, when you were faint and weary; and he feared not God. 19 Therefore it shall be, when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies round about, in the land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance to possess it, that you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget it.
American King James Version×).
To say that God never exercises judgment on nations and peoples is not true. He has done it in the past and He has promised in the Bible that He will do it in the future. In fact, the time is coming when the hand of God will be felt in a greater way than ever before on all nations—fulfilling His purpose to bring the entire world to recognize Him. (For further understanding, please request or download our free booklets Are We Living in the Time of the End? and The Book of Revelation Unveiled.)
But it is a far cry from that to saying that every hurricane, cyclone, earthquake, tsunami, shipwreck, train wreck, auto accident, building collapse and ethnic purge is the specific will of God to punish people.
A part of the natural order?
How do we explain the recurring natural disasters and accidents that happen in this world? And how do we reconcile this with an intelligent God who on occasion intervenes in the affairs of this world? Why does God allow innocent victims to suffer?
The apostle Paul captures a realistic picture of the way things are on our planet. In his discourse about God and Christ to the Athenian philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17:24-31 Acts 17:24-31 24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwells not in temples made with hands;
25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he gives to all life, and breath, and all things;
26 And has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
29 For as much then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like to gold, or silver, or stone, graven by are and man’s device.
30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men every where to repent:
31 Because he has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained; whereof he has given assurance to all men, in that he has raised him from the dead.
American King James Version×), Paul speaks of God who made the world and is Lord of heaven and earth.
He says that as a consequence of living, we should seek God as He is not far from each one of us. Paul adds: “In Him we live and move and have our being.” He is suggesting a dependence on God much more than most human beings are willing to seek. Again, though natural disasters with their indiscriminate loss of life may indicate to some that God does not care, Paul insists that God is not far from each one of us.
God has so ordered things in our present world to make us realize that we need Him much more than we are currently willing to acknowledge. Paul didn’t say that God created a perfect world where accidents and disasters don’t occur.
History has led us to conclude that, although the earth is a very beautiful and bountiful place that supplies all our needs, it can also be a dangerous place where there are no guarantees. There are tectonic plates that move from time to time causing earthquakes and tsunamis to happen.
We need to look to God a lot more than we do. Yet we tend to think that we don’t need God because this world appears to be mostly friendly and safe.
All nations affected in the end time
Jesus Christ, the Son of God and greatest prophet who ever lived, warned us about the condition of the world at the end of this age. He foretold that conditions would worsen to the point where all nations would be affected—well beyond mere isolated catastrophes affecting a few. To grasp the magnitude of what this might be like, consider World War I and World War II, both of which engulfed many nations. Yet Bible prophecy tells us that the scope of end-time events will be even greater.
The local conflicts that in the past affected only their immediate areas now affect the entire world. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, has at times impacted the economy of the entire world. For decades now it has drawn the major powers into efforts to find a solution. Similarly, the war on terrorism and the subsequent war in Iraq have polarized the nations. The Balkan wars in the last decade involved many countries. Nothing is done in a corner anymore.
And now, for the first time in modern history, a natural disaster has impacted a dozen nations bordering the Indian Ocean. And there is hardly a country in the world that hasn’t come to the aid of those nations. Jesus understood the reach of conditions that would exist at the end of the age. The prophesied events of which He spoke would impact every nation in the world. The multinational scope of the tsunami ought to tell us that we are fast approaching the end of this age as spelled out in Jesus Christ’s prophecies.
Jesus spoke of calamities increasing in frequency and intensity, building to a terrible climax—a time of great tribulation so severe that no flesh would live beyond it unless God personally intervened (Matthew 24:21-22 Matthew 24:21-22 21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
American King James Version×). Yet God promises that He will intervene in human affairs at a time when man is about to destroy himself.
We are also assured that God will send Jesus Christ a second time as King of Kings to rule over mankind and do what man couldn’t do for himself. And that is to transform the very nature of man so that he won’t continue killing himself with man-made disasters. And when humankind finally reaches the point of wanting God to be actively involved in our lives, the Old Testament prophets speak of that time as a world in which natural disasters such as this will no longer plague mankind.
Do we blame God?
This brings us to the question about the time we live in before this new age arrives. Where was God in the tsunami? Why did He allow it? It is the same question that was asked in all natural disasters of the past, and certainly asked in the last century by the Jewish people: “Where was God in the Holocaust?”
Religion today sees God as involved now, present everywhere, and doing His work to save human beings. This worldview would make Him ultimately responsible for everything that happens to us—which is not an easy position to accept or defend.
Rather than asking, “Where was God in the Holocaust?,” we ought to ask: “Where was man in the Holocaust?” Indeed, what was mankind’s responsibility in two world wars, or in our many killing fields, or in our many other self-inflicted horrors?
Aren’t we really describing a world that has left God, rather than the other way around? God is not the issue here! The human condition is the real issue, and this is the message we should be receiving.
Yet we continually resist this message. We can’t go it alone and we need God a lot more than we are willing to admit.
God in His wisdom knows that it will take many more reverses to reduce our stubborn independence and transform it into total reliance on Him. So Jesus Christ tells us in His prophecy of the end time that it will get worse before it gets better (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). Frankly, we will come to the end of our rope. Then and only then will we be willing to humble ourselves and accept the involvement of a loving and compassionate God.
Our theological explanations don’t fit the reality
Religions that claim to be speaking for God have it all wrong. They begin with the premise that God is working through all these different religions in the world. Most in the West focus on the Christian religion. If God is trying to save us through mainstream Christianity, then why are we getting further and further away from Him? The correct conclusion is that we ought to take a good look at ourselves rather than always examining God.
The truth is that a lot of our beliefs about God are our own concoctions. Mankind as a whole is insisting on doing what “seems right” to us (see Proverbs 14:12 Proverbs 14:12There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
American King James Version×; 16:25). So God, allowing us to learn from our mistakes, permits us to do what we want. But doing our own thing is a road that won’t take us to the vision prophesied in the Bible of a world of unimaginable blessings from God—a world without natural or man-made catastrophes.
God has told us through Jesus Christ’s prophecies that He will yet come to our rescue and establish the utopian world that we all, when we were young, hoped would be out there.
Has your church told you that lately? Has your church even suggested that God is soon going to reveal Himself in a very powerful way? Has your church hinted to you that turning to God with real heartfelt repentance is the way Jesus Christ said we should respond to disasters such as this?
The message of this publication is different from those you’ll read or hear elsewhere. We are seeking to help everyone grasp why things are the way they are. And we continually speak and write of the only solution.
Your part in the solution
Part of the solution would be for you personally to turn to God out of a pure heart. You would find that He is willing to be closer to us than we could possibly imagine. If mankind as a whole would turn to God and make the hard decision to obey Him, the world would find that God would draw closer to them as well. But you don’t have to wait for everyone else. As King David wrote in Psalms 145:18 Psalms 145:18The LORD is near to all them that call on him, to all that call on him in truth.
American King James Version×, “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” GN