The following was contributed by A.K. in response to a deadly tornado.
"Questions arise after any type of “natural disaster”, and from a human perspective, they are very perplexing. We don’t know the Lord’s plan, because we don’t have His mind. We are not all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-wise as He is. We are aware, though, that as Christians we have the privilege (because of our relationship with God through Jesus the Christ who died for us to save us from our sin) to live our lives in a way that reflects His character—which is the biblical definition of glorifying God. If, in the face of calamity, we just prayed for our protection and then we died in the calamity, would someone use that to say God couldn't protect us? We do trust God always to do what is best and what if His best would have been to take us home to be with Him? Could He not have been glorified by that? Absolutely.
So, what about the tragedy of those who died? Were they in some way wicked people? Are those who did not die somehow better than the others? Did God take pleasure in their deaths? How could He be glorified by not protecting all?
We don't know those people who died. We don't understand how God may be using those deaths or the damage or anything else to glorify Himself. We don’t know how He is working in their lives. He could be using this to bring unsaved people to Himself. He could be using this trial as a way to draw believers closer to Him. Do we have to know why God does what He does? Can't we just trust Him on the basis of His Word? We do know from Scripture that death is a part of the curse. It came because man rejected God. We also know that God does not take pleasure in death. God makes this clear in Ezekiel 23. This passage deals with the justice and righteousness of God in His judgment of sin. Halfway through the chapter God brings up a logical question for those who would be reading: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (v. 23). He then continues His answer and summarizes at the end: 30"Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live" (vv. 30-32). This passage is, of course, not dealing with natural disasters or any other catastrophe we might experience in life. But, it does make clear that God does not take pleasure in death even when the person who dies is wicked. Yes, He is righteous and just. He is just in His judgment, but He does not enjoy it. He loves everyone and gives them every opportunity to repent and be saved eternally. So what about those who have turned to Christ for salvation? The Bible says that when they die, the Lord views it with joy because they go immediately to be with Him. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15). So God being glorified in a human catastrophe does not mean that God takes pleasure in destruction or death. It is a consequence of the fall.
Yet, despite the fact that disasters are a result of man’s sin, God uses them to teach us more about Himself. He often uses them to bring people to Himself. God used the threat of judgment to bring Ninevah to Himself. God used the catastrophe of a storm to bring Jonah back to what God had called him to do. The Old Testament makes clear that God allowed war at times to chastise His people or to punish a wicked nation. However, the only way we can know in Scripture why He has done what He has done is when He tells us. It is easier to see in the Old Testament for that reason. In fact, in the New Testament, there were some questions as well about some disasters that had happened. In Luke 13:1-9 several people asked Jesus specifically about two disasters: one brought about by Pilate, and another by a tower falling down. Jesus answered the logical question: were they more wicked because they suffered in this way? No. In the light of eternity, unless we repent we all perish, but just because someone may die in a catastrophic way does not mean they were more wicked than someone else. Apart from God’s grace we are all wicked sinners who deserve death. However, because God loves us so much and because He is very merciful, He makes a way for us to escape the eternal judgment and have a close, personal relationship with Him. As believers we can have the strength to go through any trial that comes along, and those trials will teach us more of God and His character. For the Christian, our love for God will grow through trials.
Probably the best example of this truth is found in the book of Job. He suffered in ways most of us will never be able to imagine. Was it because of sin? No. The Bible makes that clear. Even though a lot of what Job’s friends said is true, they were obviously wrong in assuming that Job was harboring some secret sin. We know from chapter 1 that God was allowing this trial to prove Satan wrong and to teach Job more of Himself. When Job started asking questions to God, how did God respond? He did not condemn Him for the questions. He did not reveal that Job was a wicked sinner. Job already knew that. God did point out something very important though. He showed Job that as a human being we are not God. We cannot fully understand His ways. We cannot fully understand His power. Note the last couple chapters of the book (comments interspersed):
1 And the LORD said to Job:
2 "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer it."
Job Promises Silence
3 Then Job answered the LORD and said:
4"Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further."
(Note Job’s attitude when God speaks to Him. He stops asking questions, remains quiet and listens as God teaches him).
The LORD Challenges Job
6 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
7 "Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
8 Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
9 Have you an arm like God,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?
10"Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity;
clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
11 Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
and look on everyone who is proud and abase him.
12 Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low
and tread down the wicked where they stand.
13 Hide them all in the dust together;
bind their faces in the world below.
14 Then will I also acknowledge to you
that your own right hand can save you.
(We don’t have God’s power. We aren’t arrayed in majesty and glory like God. We cannot compare to Him. Incidentally, Satan’s desire to be equal to God caused His fall. Satan also used that to tempt Eve into sinning. We must remember who we are and who God is.)
(This next section deals with God’s amazing power and control over His creation. This is quite appropriate given yesterday’s display of power.)
15 "Behold, Behemoth,
which I made as I made you;
he eats grass like an ox.
16 Behold, his strength in his loins,
and his power in the muscles of his belly.
17 He makes his tail stiff like a cedar;
the sinews of his thighs are knit together.
18 His bones are tubes of bronze,
his limbs like bars of iron.
19"He is the first of the works of God;
let him who made him bring near his sword!
20 For the mountains yield food for him
where all the wild beasts play.
21 Under the lotus plants he lies,
in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh.
22 For his shade the lotus trees cover him;
the willows of the brook surround him.
23 Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened;
he is confident though Jordan rushes against his mouth.
24 Can one take him by his eyes,
or pierce his nose with a snare?
1 "Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook
or press down his tongue with a cord?
2 Can you put a rope in his nose
or pierce his jaw with a hook?
3 Will he make many pleas to you?
Will he speak to you soft words?
4 Will he make a covenant with you
to take him for your servant forever?
5 Will you play with him as with a bird,
or will you put him on a leash for your girls?
6 Will traders bargain over him?
Will they divide him up among the merchants?
7 Can you fill his skin with harpoons
or his head with fishing spears?
8 Lay your hands on him;
remember the battle—you will not do it again!
9 Behold, the hope of a man is false;
he is laid low even at the sight of him.
10 No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up.
Who then is he who can stand before me?
11 Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.
12 "I will not keep silence concerning his limbs,
or his mighty strength, or his goodly frame.
13 Who can strip off his outer garment?
Who would come near him with a bridle?
14 Who can open the doors of his face?
Around his teeth is terror.
15 His back is made of rows of shields,
shut up closely as with a seal.
16 One is so near to another
that no air can come between them.
17 They are joined one to another;
they clasp each other and cannot be separated.
18 His sneezings flash forth light,
and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn.
19 Out of his mouth go flaming torches;
sparks of fire leap forth.
20 Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke,
as from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
21 His breath kindles coals,
and a flame comes forth from his mouth.
22 In his neck abides strength,
and terror dances before him.
23 The folds of his flesh stick together,
firmly cast on him and immovable.
24 His heart is hard as a stone,
hard as the lower millstone.
25 When he raises himself up the mighty are afraid;
at the crashing they are beside themselves.
26 Though the sword reaches him, it does not avail,
nor the spear, the dart, or the javelin.
27 He counts iron as straw,
and bronze as rotten wood.
28 The arrow cannot make him flee;
for him sling stones are turned to stubble.
29 Clubs are counted as stubble;
he laughs at the rattle of javelins.
30 His underparts are like sharp potsherds;
he spreads himself like a threshing sledge on the mire.
31 He makes the deep boil like a pot;
he makes the sea like a pot of ointment.
32 Behind him he leaves a shining wake;
one would think the deep to be white-haired.
33 On earth there is not his like,
a creature without fear.
34 He sees everything that is high;
he is king over all the sons of pride."
(So what was Job’s response?)
1 Then Job answered the LORD and said:
2"I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?'Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 'Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.'
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes."
This should be the Christian’s attitude to trials as well. We trust God because of Who He is. We live by faith knowing that God never changes. We trust what His Word reveals about Him. We know that He is holy and just. We know that He is loving. We know that for Christians, all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28-39). We know that God gives grace in trials that help us overcome them and grow in Him (James 1). We know that we have a special relationship with Him to help us through trials.
So what is the Christian response to the question? We trust God. We don’t make statements indicating that those who perish were wicked. We affirm that God is good. When Christians die, we are naturally sad about death, just as God is, but we rejoice to know that they are with Him. We should pray that God’s will be accomplished for those affected by the storm. We should be characterized by the same compassion that God has towards those who have suffered. If we find out they are believers, we should help them and encourage them to trust in the Lord. We should build them up. If we find out they are unbelievers, we should help them and thank the Lord that He is giving them more time to repent and escape the worse tragedy that will come if they die later without Christ. We do all this with humility knowing that God is good and that He is in control of everything. We do this knowing that God has chosen to leave us here to reflect His character and lead others to Him.
So what is the unsaved reaction? Unfortunately, they do not have peace from God. They have not been forgiven of theirs sins. They have not experienced the close relationship with the Lord that will strengthen them. They do not have the Holy Spirit within them to guide and comfort them. They are just as human as Christians are, but without God’s transforming power. They will ask the same questions, but their response will go in one of several directions. 1) They can turn to God for help. This is our prayer for those who are unsaved that have suffered in this event. 2) They can take a stoic attitude and continue on in their own strength. 3) They can lash out against God. This is a natural response because they do not know Him. It is also a sad response and should break our hearts for them. They have no peace and that is what they most need.
We hope that this biblical perspective will be of help to anyone who reads it. We pray for Christians that it will direct our thoughts to God’s truth and help us grow in Him and respond properly when any trial comes. We pray it will help us take seriously our privilege and responsibility to live in a godly manner, reflecting God’s character to the world (i.e. glorifying God—“glory” in the Bible means causing to think the same way about something). For the unsaved, we pray they will turn to Christ. We pray God will give us an opportunity to help meet their physical needs. We pray we can show Christ-likeness to them. We do not judge them or make statements like “God is punishing you” because God has not, and will not this side of eternity reveal all of His purposes in this tragedy. In short, we trust God and praise Him for Who He is. We, by faith, accept what God says and live for Him for His glory."