What does God say to us in disaster?

Will Crawford —  May 25, 2011 — 4 Comments

Our news has been filled lately with natural disaster followed by natural disaster. Just yesterday, we heard that over 126 people died from a tornado that hit the town of Joplin, Missouri. This happened less than a month after over 300 people perished in Alabama from a similar disaster. Earthquakes, floods, tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, not to mention other tragedies people face… Is there something God is trying to teach us or say to us through all of these events? Some have suggested that these events are a judgment upon humankind by God. The rational is that, for one reason or another, God is angry with us and therefore these things occur as wrath or judgment. Others suggested it has no bearing on that at all and that these events occur simply because of the sin which came into the world at ‘The Fall’. In this way then, these tragedies all happen as part of the price of being human in a fallen world; it’s just part of life.

I’m not sure how qualified I am to give anyone a definitive answer to such a deep, profound and human question. I’ve seen these events, and the devastation they produce, at a distance in that this type of tragedy has never affected my private property or family. However, as a pastor, this is one of those questions that gets asked a lot, both by those who observe tragedy and those who go through it themselves. Over the years I have wrestled with this question like so many other people and have embraced an answer I think most answers the dilemma of tragedy in our lives. The heart of this answer is found in an answer Jesus gave to a disaster that happened when he was upon the earth. It is found in Luke 13:4-5. Jesus refers here to a tragedy that occurred when the tower of Siloam fell killing 18 people. As with many other situations, people were looking to Jesus to tell them whose sin or what sin caused the hardship these people were facing. They were trying to get Jesus to assign blame for the tragedy, but Jesus doesn’t do that. He doesn’t say that this incident was to prove that someone was guilty of sin or that someone’s actions were being punished for wrong doing.

Jesus looks at this disaster another way. He sees it as a reminder, or a life message, to all who experience this tragedy. The message is very simply this, “No matter how awful or tragic the event is that you have witnessed, remember this, there is a far greater, far more severe, far more tragic fate that befalls all who are not in relationship with God. It is eternity separated from God!”

Please don’t get me wrong, these events we’ve witnessed are tragic. The issue is whether we are allowing the witness of such events to help us ask the right questions. Our immediate response may be “God why did you allow this to happen?”, but we also need to ask “If this had been me and I were to die, (and there is no reason it couldn’t be), would I spend eternity in relationship without or apart from God?” The first time I ever heard the lessons of tragedies taught this way was from John Piper after the collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis where 13 died. My immediate response was, “I’ve been asking the wrong questions to tragedy and missing the message and opportunity to learn tragedy provides.”

The wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, said this “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind and the living will lay it to heart.” Eccles 7:2 ESV. We learn how to live when we consider our own deaths. In a culture that seeks to ignore death and push it away with the pursuit of pleasure, we are keeping ourselves from asking the most pressing questions and learning life’s most important lessons.

I’d love to know your thoughts. How do you handle the tragedy you see around you?

Will Crawford

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4 responses to What does God say to us in disaster?

  1. I like what you wrote, Will. In the Scriptures God seems to indicate that He has a very different perspective on many things that we humans tend to interpret as being ‘bad’. One of the most fascinating examples is Amos 4:6 ” “I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.” (NIV 1984) I may be mistaken but I get a sense that the famine here is a _gift_, a ‘severe mercy’ (to take CS Lewis’ phrase) which, while taken on its own, might be seen by us as tragic, but in the context of moving us towards repentance and for redemptive purposes, a merciful tragedy.

    I don’t want to make this point too heavily, for it seems a fearful thing, but the Amos passage does make me wonder.

    • Will Crawford May 25, 2011 at 9:01 pm

      I agree Jeff…I think there are many things we consider ‘tragic’ that may in essence be an act of God’s grace. I think of how often when a person dies in their 60 or 70′s we think it is tragic and young. Yet I look at my grandfather who is 95 with dementia and needing to be cared for and I wonder if dying younger…especially when we don’t know what our future holds may indeed be an act of grace. Then again even in his situation maybe the act of grace is to have to live in His strength with someone who can not remember those closest to him.
      I think it is interesting in this example here how Jesus seems to point to the fact that the greatest tragedy we see on this earth is nothing compared to the tragedy of a person spending eternity apart from relationship with God.

  2. Thank you for this insight. I also think the disasters are a reminder to us that God is in control. We must take the focus off ourselves and realize God can change the path of our lives anytime He wants to. This is a wake up call to us Believers and as you stated the lesson is “Will we be ready when God calls us Home”.

    • Will Crawford May 26, 2011 at 8:52 am

      I agree Debbie…these disasters have a way of helping us to embrace the truth that ‘treasures in heaven’ are far more secure than those we build for ourselves here on earth. In a moment everthing we have can all be taken away and everything we’ve built in our lives can be gone.

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