The Christian Response to Disaster


TornadoThe foamboard in my front yard spoke to me. The yellow fiberglass insulation told a story.

I don’t know whose damaged or destroyed home those leftover bits and pieces came from, but they are a reminder of suffering and death in the wake of the tornadoes that went through several states last Friday.

In Batavia, a town just west of here, someone found storm debris that contained papers labeled with the name of the town of Nabb, Indiana. Nabb is part of the Henryville/Marysville area that was utterly devastated by the storms. Nabb is also just over a 100 miles west of Batavia. That’s 100 miles.

I’m glad that Pat Robertson does not live in our area. I’m sure he’d have something to say about these storms that I’d later have to apologize for on behalf of other Christians.

I hate it when the news media find some blowhard believer who can’t wait to have his or her opinion heard by the masses. How the media routinely uncover the worst representative of the Christian faith to comment on disasters is a gift, though one of the worst giftings I can think of.

When the “media” of Jesus’ day stuck a figurative microphone under His nose in an attempt to get a pithy comment from Him on recent disasters, this is what He said:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
—Luke 13:1-5

People are always trying to make sense of disasters. Truth is, disaster is part and parcel of a world steeped in human sin. If anything, our perspective should instead be one of gratefulness to God that anything good can come out of the mess we have made. Into that mess came Jesus, who offered Himself as a living sacrifice for sin and showed us by His actions how to show mercy to others.

So here is what I wish we would say and do when confronted with disaster: Show mercy to the survivors and remind everyone that disaster can come upon anyone at any time, and unless we repent, we will all likewise perish.

That’s all. Don’t add to that. Show mercy and remind of repentance. End of comment.

God will see fit to fill in everything else.

18 thoughts on “The Christian Response to Disaster

  1. Excellent thoughts. Disasters are an opportunity to minister to those who are hurting. We ought to be more concerned about showing love than trying to second guess God’s motivation.

  2. Thanks Dan, some timely thoughts.
    I have some family members who have been evacuated from the potential flooding of the city of Wagga Wagga (Australia) overnight. My wife and I also have concerns for her mother who lives further down river with major flooding expected in a couple of weeks. Roads between her place and ours have already been cut.

    Sadly there is always someone claiming all disasters are God’s judgment on sin and sinners – as if these afflicted areas are worse than other areas.
    Thank you for bringing the reminder of what Jesus said about this type of thing.

    Tim (onesimus)

  3. Don Costello

    I agree that some of the statements Pat Robertson makes are really bad, but I what I believe is just as bad is when John Piper says when speaking of the tornadoes, that God’s fierce fingers were going through the Midwest and South killing 38 people.

    • Piper’s statement is consistent with his extreme determinist views in which he sees that everything that happens has been ordained by God.

      Why he is such a popular teacher these days I don’t know.

      • Tim,

        I’ve never been satisfied by Calvinism’s response to these issues because it cannot sufficiently avoid ultimately blaming God for all the bad that happens in the world. Either God is good or He is not. Either He is consistent in His nature or He is not. I feel that Calvinism tries to have it both ways, while insisting it doesn’t. Jesus says that the thief comes to steal and destroy, so His worldview clearly places destruction in the hands of the “thief” entity, which most people consider to be Satan. The Kingdom of God ushered in by Jesus is clearly aimed at unseating Satan’s kingdom, and like Jesus said, a kingdom cannot be divided against itself and still stand.

        As I get older, I’m increasingly intrigued by Molinism, which is the position of noted Christian philosophers William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga. It seems to be the only view that sufficiently encapsulates both free will and determinism. Fact is, it’s probably been my position for a long time, and I only now realize that someone has put a name to it.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy

          Calvinism’s response would not be out of place in Islam: “IN’SHAL’LAH…”

          It’s a solution to the Paradox of Evil:
          1) God is All-Good.
          2) God is All-Powerful.
          3) Evil Exists.
          Any two of these, no problem. All three and you have a paradox.

          Mohammed, Calvin, and Piper resolve this paradox by erasing (1) and placing God beyond Good and Evil. God Wills and Predestines what He Will, and who are we to call it Evil? “HE IS THE CREATOR AND YOU ARE BUT THE CREATURES — IN’SHAL’LAH!”

          Result (in the words of Christian Monist): “A God who is Omnipotent but not benevolent.”

  4. Don,

    Agreed. Piper’s response oversteps the bounds too. Jesus didn’t attempt to answer the who, what, where, when, why, and how of those disasters. He just said to make sure you have repented.

    I don’t want to read anything into what Jesus said in that Luke 13 passage, but it seems to me Jesus is definitely saying that the people who died were not somehow singled out for punishment because they were “worse offenders” than anyone else. The people coming to Jesus wanted to find a way to frame the issue of “why these 18 people on whom the tower fell?” or “for what purpose?” but Jesus purposefully deflected those questions and refused to answer them. I think that whenever we try to answer them, we’re overstepping our bounds.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      After all the “true meanings” of that Luke 13 passage I was told (mostly centering around End Time Prophecy), I came back to my original impression of it. Jesus was telling them “Sometimes, s**t happens. Don’t read too much into it.”

    • Don,

      I hate it when someone answers a question with a question, but I’m going to do that:

      Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
      —Acts 11:27-30

      If it is within the authority of Christians to speak to natural disasters so as to prevent them, then why didn’t the Church rebuke the worldwide famine? Instead, they prepped for a mercy outreach.

      This is not to say that a righteous man can NEVER rebuke a tornado, only that it would be a highly unusual event if such a man did and the tornado obeyed. You just don’t see evidence of Christians doing anything like this in the NT. Jesus, yes, but as proof of His divinity.

      • Hans

        Oh Boy Dan, you are not going to like this, but I witnessed a man under the unction of the Holy Spirit rebuke a really wild storm with large seas, and in less time than it took for us to drive aboard the ferry park, climb a couple flights of stairs and walk out to the back deck there was no wind and the water was calm.

        And that was just one of many NT experiences I’ve had, God is the same, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow…..

        • Hans,

          Why would I not like that? It’s just that I don’t believe that to be the norm. It wasn’t in the case of the famine I mentioned, nor does the NT show other examples of Christians doing that (for instance, Paul did not calm the storm that ultimately destroyed the ship he was aboard).

          • Headless Unicorn Guy

            I’ve always approached miracles like any other paranormal phenomenon: Rare and often ambiguous.

            If obvious miracles happened all the time like some Pentecostals seem to believe, it wouldn’t be “Signs & Wonders of the Holy Spirit”. It would be jumping Planck’s Wall into Star Trek Voyager and its Unknown Space Anomaly of the Week. When reality bends like that all the time, it’s not an anomaly or miracle. It’s what’s normal, and Reality is Eternal Chaos without the chocolate rain.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy

          …I witnessed a man under the unction of the Holy Spirit rebuke a really wild storm with large seas, and in less time than it took for us to drive aboard the ferry park, climb a couple flights of stairs and walk out to the back deck there was no wind and the water was calm.

          And I once ran into a guy who claimed he did the same with unspecified Magick Rituals. What of it?

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