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 Mark 13:8For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.
American King James Version×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 Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 11 I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.
12 For man also knows not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly on them.
American King James Version×).
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 Luke 13:2-3 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.
American King James Version×, 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 James 4:14Whereas you know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away.
American King James Version×).
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 Exodus 19:18And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
American King James Version×). Jesus Christ’s death was marked by a major earthquake to reinforce God’s presence and power (Matthew 27:54 Matthew 27:54Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
American King James Version×; Matthew 28:2 Matthew 28:2And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it.
American King James Version×).
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 Numbers 16:32And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained to Korah, and all their goods.
American King James Version×).
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 Genesis 3:17-19 17 And to Adam he said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat of it: cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you; and you shall eat the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return to the ground; for out of it were you taken: for dust you are, and to dust shall you return.
American King James Version×).
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 26:14But if you will not listen to me, and will not do all these commandments;
American King James Version×; Leviticus 26:19-20 Leviticus 26:19-20 19 And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass: 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits.
American King James Version×: Leviticus 26:25-26 Leviticus 26:25-26 25 And I will bring a sword on you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and when you are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 And when I have broken the staff of your bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver you your bread again by weight: and you shall eat, and not be satisfied.
American King James Version×).
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 Job 1:13-19 13 And there was a day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house:
14 And there came a messenger to Job, and said, The oxen were plowing, and the asses feeding beside them:
15 And the Sabeans fell on them, and took them away; yes, they have slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell you.
16 While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and has burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell you.
17 While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The Chaldeans made out three bands, and fell on the camels, and have carried them away, yes, and slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell you.
18 While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house:
19 And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell you.
American King James Version×). 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 Job 42:10And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.
American King James Version×).
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 Revelation 13:13And he does great wonders, so that he makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,
American King James Version×). 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 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10 And with all delusion of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
American King James Version×).
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 7:21-22 21 And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.
22 And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, neither did he listen to them; as the LORD had said.
American King James Version×; Exodus 8:7 Exodus 8:7And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs on the land of Egypt.
American King James Version×,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 Revelation 11:3-6 3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and three score days, clothed in sackcloth.
4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
5 And if any man will hurt them, fire proceeds out of their mouth, and devours their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.
6 These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days 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.
American King James Version×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 8:5-13 5 And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunder, and lightning, and an earthquake. 6 And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. 7 The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast on the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. 8 And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; 9 And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed. 10 And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell on the third part of the rivers, and on the fountains of waters; 11 And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. 12 And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise. 13 And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the middle of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabitants of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!
American King James Version×; Revelation 11:19 Revelation 11:19And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightning, and voices, and thunder, and an earthquake, and great hail.
American King James Version×; Revelation 16:1-21 Revelation 16:1-21 1 And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God on the earth. 2 And the first went, and poured out his vial on the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore on the men which had the mark of the beast, and on them which worshipped his image. 3 And the second angel poured out his vial on the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea. 4 And the third angel poured out his vial on the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel of the waters say, You are righteous, O Lord, which are, and were, and shall be, because you have judged thus. 6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. 7 And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are your judgments. 8 And the fourth angel poured out his vial on the sun; and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. 9 And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which has power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory. 10 And the fifth angel poured out his vial on the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, 11 And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds. 12 And the sixth angel poured out his vial on the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. 13 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. 15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. 16 And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. 17 And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. 18 And there were voices, and thunders, and lightning; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were on the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. 19 And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give to her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. 21 And there fell on men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.
American King James Version×; Joel 1:15-20 Joel 1:15-20 15 Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come. 16 Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yes, joy and gladness from the house of our God? 17 The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered. 18 How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yes, the flocks of sheep are made desolate. 19 O LORD, to you will I cry: for the fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame has burned all the trees of the field. 20 The beasts of the field cry also to you: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.
American King James Version×; 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 Zechariah 14:16-19 16 And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.
17 And it shall be, that whoever will not come up of all the families of the earth to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even on them shall be no rain.
18 And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, that have no rain; there shall be the plague, with which the LORD will smite the heathen that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.
19 This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.
American King James Version×). 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 Matthew 24:24For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
American King James Version×). 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 Isaiah 41:17-18 17 When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue fails for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the middle of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
American King James Version×; Micah 4:3-4 Micah 4:3-4 3 And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 4 But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken it.
American King James Version×; Amos 9:13 Amos 9:13Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that sows seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt.
American King James Version×). 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 Isaiah 11:9-10 9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. 10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
American King James Version×).