God and Natural Disasters

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Romans 8:18-25

Note: This sermon was preached in Plantation, Florida on Sunday, 9/17/2017, one week after Hurricane Irma impacted South Florida on 9/10/17.

INTRODUCTION: We have all just gone through a historic storm this past week. From the massive preparations for the storm to the record evacuations, from going through the storm itself to the cleanup efforts and trying to get back to normal, we’re all tired and beat up by this storm. Many of us have suffered losses, a number of us are still without power, and I thought it would be good for us to take this week and look at natural disasters in light of God and the Bible. What does the Bible say about natural disasters, and what does God have to do with it all? We will be looking at a number of Scripture passages this morning, but let’s start with this passage right here in Romans 8. (Read Romans 8:18-25 and pray.)

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Insurance companies have a specific terminology when it comes to natural disasters. They call them “acts of God.” Isn’t that interesting? Not acts of nature, but acts of God. I’m not sure how that got started, but it does raise some interesting questions. Are natural disasters acts of God or are they just random occurrences that happen around the planet? Did God cause the hurricane we just all went through? Did he cause the recent earthquake in Mexico? Once again, what does the Bible say about natural disasters, and what does God have to do with it all?

I would like us to look at three principles from the Bible this morning as we seek to answer these questions. 1) Natural disasters are not natural. 2) Natural disasters are part of God’s judgment for sin. 3) Natural disasters are meant to turn you to God. So let’s get started.

I. Natural disasters are not natural

First of all, natural disasters are not natural. Now of course they are natural in the sense that they are part of nature, that they follow certain patterns, and that we can observe them scientifically and draw various conclusions from the data. They are certainly natural in that sense. They are not what we would call supernatural. They are natural to the world the way the world is now. And yet they are not natural to the world as God created it.

   A. God created the world good
      – Genesis 1:31

The Bible tells us that God created the world good. We read in Genesis after God finished creating: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31)

When God completed creating the heavens and the earth and everything in them, he looked at all that he had made and pronounced it good. The world as God created it was not a world of sin and sickness and death and disasters. God created the world good.

   B. Sin affected the natural world around us
      – Genesis 3:17-19

So what happened? Basically, sin happened. Sin entered the good world that God created, and that sin affected the natural world around us.

In Genesis 3 we read God’s words to Adam after he sinned: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

Anybody here go through any painful toil this week? Anybody do any work by the sweat of your brow? You see, sin not only affected our relationship with God and our relationships with each other, but sin also affected our relationship with nature and nature’s relationship with us. Yes, God created the world good, but sin affected the natural world around us. And so that’s our first point this morning. Natural disasters are not natural, at least not natural to the world as God created it.

II. Natural disasters are part of God’s judgment for sin

Secondly, natural disasters are part of God’s judgment for sin. Now we need to be careful what we say here. Natural disasters are part of God’s general judgment for sin on this world, although we should not presume to know whether they are God’s judgment for specific sin. Let’s talk about both of those – God’s general judgment for sin, and God’s judgment for specific sin.

   A. They are part of God’s general judgment for sin
      – Psalm 148:8; Romans 8:20-22

First of all, natural disasters are part of God’s general judgment for sin.

Some people try to remove God from the equation when it comes to natural disasters. They say, “God doesn’t have anything to do with the weather. It’s just scientific patterns that we can quantify and observe.” Well, God is a God of order, so the fact that we can quantify and observe his creation shouldn’t surprise us at all.

But the Bible makes it clear that God is still in control of the weather at all times. Psalm 148:8 speaks of “lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding.” (Psalm 148:8) God is most definitely in control of the weather. He is the real “weather man.”

So if God is in control, why does he allow these natural disasters to inflict so much suffering on us? Because they are part of God’s general judgment for sin. We read in Romans 8: “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it…. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:20-22)

What is Paul saying here? This whole world is under a curse because of sin. The whole creation groans under the curse of sin. Once again, that is why we have such things as sickness, suffering, plagues and disasters. These are all part of God’s general judgment for sin.

Look at verse 20 where it says, “Creation was subjected to frustration … by the will of the one who subjected it.” (Romans 8:20) People sometimes read that verse and wonder who is this one who subjected the creation to frustration? Was it Adam when he sinned? Is it Satan? No there is only one being who has the power to subject all of creation to frustration and that is God. God subjected the creation to frustration when sin entered the world. And natural disasters are part of that frustration of nature.

I’m glad that God is the one who is in control of the weather. Why do you think we pray when a big storm is approaching land? We pray for God’s mercy, and we ask him to turn the storm from land into the open sea. And many times we have seen God answer that prayer. Other times God allows his judgment to go forth, but even then God has a purpose in it all.

So that’s the first thing we want to understand when we talk about natural disasters as being part of God’s judgment for sin. They are part of God’s general judgment for sin.

   B. We should not presume to know whether they are God’s judgment for specific sin
      – Luke 13:1-5

Now here’s the second part, and this is very important. We should not presume to know whether they are God’s judgment for specific sin. Too often after a disaster strikes people make the mistake of pronouncing that the disaster was God’s judgment for specific sin in that area of the world. It happened in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina when people said God was judging New Orleans for her sins. It happened again in 2016 after Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti.

The problem with pronouncing judgment is we just don’t know. We know from the Bible that God sometimes uses natural disasters as a judgment for specific sins. Just ask Jonah about the storm that God sent his way when he was running away from God.

But unless we have a prophet from God to interpret the storm or disaster for us, we have no way of knowing whether a certain natural disaster was part of God’s general judgment for sin on this world or whether it was God’s judgment for specific sin on the part of those who suffered. And even if we did have a so called “prophet” today who made such a declaration, we would have no way of testing his claims. We can only test prophecy by Scripture, and we have no Scriptures that speak to specific instances of natural disasters in our day.

Jesus had something to say about those who blamed disasters on the specific sins of others. We read in Luke 13: “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

Instead of pointing our fingers at others when disasters occur, Jesus said we should get busy about repenting for our own sins lest we also perish.

And so that is our second point this morning. Natural disasters are part of God’s judgment for sin. But they are part of God’s general judgment for sin on this world, and we should not presume to know whether they are God’s judgment for specific sin.

III. Natural disasters are meant to turn you to God

1) Natural disasters are not natural. 2) Natural disasters are part of God’s judgment for sin. 3) Natural disasters are meant to turn you to God.

People make two big mistakes when it comes to God and natural disasters. Either they blame God when disaster hits, or they forget God when disaster passes them by.

I remember several years before Hurricane Sandy when another huge storm was headed for a direct hit on New York City. Many prayed for God to turn that storm to sea. And God did. And yet instead of people giving thanks to God for his mercy, they were on the TV making jokes about how the weather forecasters were wrong. It was a sad commentary on how much people have forgotten God.

You should not blame God when disaster hits, and you should not forget God when you are spared. Rather natural disasters are meant to turn you to God. Let me share with you now five ways from the Scriptures that natural disasters are meant to turn you to God.

   A. They are a reminder that this world is passing away
      – 1 John 2:15-17

First of all, natural disasters are a reminder that this world is passing away. We read in 1 John 2: “Do not love the world or anything in the world…. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

We are stubborn people, and even after coming to Christ we often cling to the things of this world. Natural disasters are a reminder that this world is passing away, and that we should let go of the things of this world and focus on the things of God instead.

   B. They are a warning of the judgment to come
      – Proverbs 10:25; Matthew 24:6-8

Secondly, natural disasters are a warning of the judgment to come. Proverbs 10:25 says: “When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.” (Proverbs 10:25) Every natural disaster, every earthquake, every storm is a warning that there is a judgment to come, where the wicked will be swept away and only the righteous will remain standing. And who are the righteous? The Bible makes it clear that we are all sinners and that we can only be declared righteous in God’s sight when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Only those who have put their trust in Jesus as Savior will be spared the judgment to come.

That’s why it was so distressing to see people in New York laughing after the storm had passed them by. Yes, there should have been grateful laughter to God who spared them from the storm, and yet instead there was mocking laughter. There was no acknowledgment, no conception that this storm was a gracious warning from God of the judgment to come.

Jesus said about the end times in Matthew 24: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” (Matthew 24:6-8)

As we draw closer to Christ’s return and the Day of Judgment, Jesus said there would be an increase in wars and famines and earthquakes. Why? Because all these are the beginning of birth pains. They are a warning of judgment to come.

   C. They are an occasion to put your trust in God
      – Ezekiel 33:11; Nahum 1:7; Romans 8:37-39

Thirdly, natural disasters are an occasion to put your trust in God. Remember people either forget God when a storm passes them by or they blame God when the storm hits. But God is not against you. He is for you. He wants you to turn to him. We read in Ezekiel 33:11: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die?” (Ezekiel 33:11)

Too many people “get religion” in a storm, but they don’t turn to Jesus. They pray, “God, if you will only get me through this, I will follow you for the rest of my life.” But three days after the storm they are back to their old ways. They didn’t really turn to Jesus for salvation from sin. They were just looking for escape from the storm.

A storm is not a time to blame God or forget God but to trust God. Nahum 1:7 says: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” (Nahum 1:7) God loves you. He cares for you. Don’t ever forget that, even at the height of the storm when the winds are at their fiercest and things are falling down all around you. God is with you. He loves you. He will never forsake you.

What about those who suffer loss in the storm – loss of property, loss of finances, perhaps even loss of life? Believers are not exempt from suffering in this world. Christians lose their homes and die in storms too. If that happens to you, does that mean that your trust was misplaced? No. That’s when you need to remember Paul’s words in Romans 8 inspired by God: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

Nothing can separate you from God’s love for you in Christ, neither death nor life, neither hurricane nor earthquakes, nor anything else in all creation. Even in death God is with you, and you can trust him. Natural disasters are an occasion to put your trust in God.

   D. They are an opportunity to show God’s love to others
      – 1 John 3:16-18

1) Natural disasters are a reminder that this world is passing away. 2) They are a warning of the judgment to come. 3) They are an occasion to put your trust in God. 4) And fourthly, they are an opportunity to show God’s love to others.

1 John 3 says this: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)

God didn’t just say he loves us. He showed us. God sent his son Jesus into our world to be our Savior. Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

Natural disasters are an amazing opportunity for you and me to show God’s love to others. When the storm hits far away, some of us help by contributing to the various disaster relief funds. But when the storm hits here, there are so many practical ways to reach out to others – calling on a neighbor or friend, sharing food and supplies, helping people clean up after the storm.

I’ll share with you two examples from my life this past week, one good and one bad. Here’s the good one first. Someone with power let me borrow their generator this week, for which I am so grateful. I was talking to my next door neighbor who had no power and no generator, so I offered to run a cord from my generator to his house to help them with their refrigerator and lights. Those are the types of things all of us can and should be doing.

Now for the bad one. It was early in the week and gas was scarce. I was out trying to find gas for the generator and found a station that was open and got in a long line to fill my six-gallon gas can. I finally got to the pump and started filling. The gas station ran out of gas just when I got to 5.8 gallons. Wow! Talk about God providing! But here’s where I blew it.

The guy who had been waiting behind me in line was so discouraged. I heard him say, “They’re out of gas? All I needed was one gallon.” Now I couldn’t help everyone who was in line behind me that day. But I could have helped this one man. God had given me six gallons of gas, and I could have given him one. But I didn’t. Either out of fear or tiredness or selfishness, I drove away with my six-gallon can full of gas. And I was wrong. Even on the way home I knew it. I told God I was so sorry, and I asked his forgiveness. There was no reason for me not to share. You and I both know if I had given this man the gallon that he needed that God could have stretched the five gallons remaining to more than the six gallons I ended up with.

I share that story with you not so much as a public confession, but rather to help you and me remember not to make similar mistakes in the future. Natural disasters are an opportunity to show God’s love to others, and we can trust God to provide for our needs.

   E. They help you remember what’s really important in life
      – Matthew 6:19-20, 33

And then finally, natural disasters help you remember what’s really important in life. When the storm is over, no matter what material things we lost, we are grateful that God spared our lives, our families and our friends. Material things can be replaced. People can’t.

Jesus said in Matthew 6: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal…. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:19-20, 33)

Natural disasters have an amazing way to help you focus on what’s really important in life – God and people and relationships rather than the material things we so often focus on outside of the storm.

1) Natural disasters are a reminder that this world is passing away. 2) They are a warning of the judgment to come. 3) They are an occasion to put your trust in God. 4) They are an opportunity to show God’s love to others. 5) They help you remember what’s really important in life. Natural disasters are meant to turn you to God.

CONCLUSION: We are so blessed. God spared us the worst of this storm. I heard one person say, “We dodged a bullet.” And the other person responded, “No, we dodged a cannon ball!” God spared us, and we should be so grateful for that.

But even if God did not spare us, even if we had experienced a direct Category 5 hit and suffered tremendous and catastrophic losses, everything we just said this morning would still be true.

God is in control even of natural disasters. So use this storm as an opportunity to trust God, to help others and to remember what is really important in life. Don’t blame God for your losses, and don’t forget about God now that the storm has passed.

Let us be thankful to God for his mercy, and let us pray for those who have lost so much more than we did in this storm.

© Ray Fowler

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