Posts tagged ‘Natural Disaster’

Tragedy in California

They are the worst wildfires in the history of the state of California.

Nearly 250,000 acres have burned.  79 people have been killed.  Sadly, that number will likely climb as first responders continue their search through the rubble these fires have left behind.  The town of Paradise, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, has been especially hard hit, with nearly the whole town being destroyed.

California has had a rough go of it lately.  Just two weeks ago, the state endured another tragedy as a gunman opened fire at a country bar filled with college students in Thousand Oaks, killing twelve.  The shooter was a Marine Corps veteran who appears to have had all sorts of mental health issues and was, at one time, on the cusp of being committed.

The sheer number of tragedies that roll in through each news cycle can begin to feel overwhelming.  For each town that is charred and person that is shot, we ask, “How can we stop this from happening?”  Answers to this perennial and pressing question seem to elude us.  When tragedies do strike, we are thankful for firefighters who risk their lives on the frontlines of massive and unpredictable blazes and officers who run into hails of bullets rather than away from them.  Proactively, we are instructed to keep dry brush away from homes in fire zones and guns out of the hands of mentally disturbed people.  But despite our best efforts, the tragedies keep coming.  Tragedies, even if they can be somewhat mitigated and managed by us, cannot be successfully stayed by us.

On the surface, the California fires and the California shooting seem to be two different types of tragedies.  One is a natural disaster.  The other is man-caused carnage.  Below the surface, however, these two tragedies share a common core:  sin.  The fires remind us that the sin that came into the world with Adam and Eve has disordered and distorted the world in profound and frightening ways.  The mass shooting reminds us that sin is not just in the world.  It is in us.  It’s not just that we cannot eradicate the sin that distorts creation; it’s that we cannot even kill the sin in ourselves.

The message of Christianity reminds us that, even as societies scramble to address sin, we need a victory over sin that we cannot gain for ourselves.  Sin needs not only our noble actions and timely reactions, but a perfect transaction that exchanges our sad sin for a better righteousness.  This is the transaction Christ makes for us on the cross.

Tragedies are sure to continue.  And we should be thankful for those fighting on the front lines of those tragedies.  But we can also be hopeful that tragedy’s time is short, for sin’s defeat is certain.

November 19, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Kilauea’s Fury and God’s Promise

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 4.08.46 PM.pngIt’s destruction in slow motion.

When Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano began erupting a week and a half ago, cracks in and around the volcano began to emerge, spewing molten lava and dangerous gas.  So far, 18 fissures have opened in the ground, 36 structures have been destroyed by creeping lava, and 2,000 residents have had to evacuate their homes.  And geologists have no idea how long these eruptions will continue.  Officials now worry that the lava lake in Kilauea’s crater will fall below the level of the groundwater, which could spark dangerous stream-driven explosions, spewing boulders – some weighing many tons – into the air.

The flow of lava is nearly impossible to stop.  Its temperature checks in at around 2,000 degrees, which makes dousing it with water ineffective.  Because the lava is so heavy, diversion channels also do not tend to work.  The lava will simply flow over them.  Residents can only stand by and watch in horror as melted, red-hot rock destroys everything it is path.  David Nail, who lives on the gentle slopes of Kilauea in Leilani Estates, had his home consumed by a 20-foot tall pile of lava.  “All we could do was sit there and cry,” he explained.

Natural disasters such as this raise a perennial question about faith: why, if there is a good God, would He allow such terrible disasters to happen?  Christianity is unique in its approach to this question because it not only seeks to grapple with this quandary philosophically, but to empathize with people who have to endure the pain wrought by natural disasters personally.

Christianity teaches that the overall sinfulness of humanity affects and infects every part of creation.  The sinfulness of humanity is why earthquakes topple communities and hurricanes flood them.  The sinfulness of humanity is why severe weather strikes the south and volcanoes erupt in the west.  Because of sin, creation, to borrow a memorable phrase from the apostle Paul, “has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22).  In this regard, the natural disasters we experience are anything but natural.  Instead, they are a result of an alien sinfulness first thrust onto the world by our forbearers, Adam and Eve.  Thus, nature doesn’t like these disasters any more than we do.  Natural disasters are painful to nature, just as they are to us.

With all of this being said, Christianity also doesn’t just wag its finger ignominiously at the sinfulness in humanity for causing the suffering of humanity.  Christianity teaches that God is in the midst of suffering.  At the heart of Christianity is the cross – an agent not only of deep suffering, but of cruel torture.  Christianity teaches that God came into suffering through His Son and endured the ultimate suffering as He bore the sins of the world in His death.  Though we may not have all the answers to why God allows suffering, we do have a promise that God is deeply familiar with suffering.  He suffers with us.

When Moses receives the Ten Commandments on top Mount Sinai, the scene looks downright volcanic: “The mountain…blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness” (Deuteronomy 4:11).  The Israelites at the base of the mountain who saw what was happening on the mountain, understandably, “trembled with fear” (Exodus 20:18).  And yet, for all the fear Sinai’s violent eruption may have caused in the people who saw it, Deuteronomy also reminds us that “the LORD spoke…out of the fire” (Deuteronomy 4:12).  Sinai may have been spewing fire and ash, but God was there, speaking His words to His people.

Kilauea is not Sinai.  I highly doubt anyone will come striding down Kilauea after its eruption with a couple of stone tablets in hand.  And yet, just as God was present with the Israelites camping in the shadow Sinai, God is also present with the Hawaiians living in the shadow of Kilauea.  And the words that He spoke at Sinai to Israel, He still speaks to us today: “I am the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:2). God still invites us to be His people so He can love us as His children.  Of this, every Hawaiian – and every person – can be assured.

May 14, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Where is God in Natural Disasters?

Credit: Charles Sykes, Associated Press

$30 billion.  That’s the amount of damage that Superstorm Sandy inflicted on just the state of New York.  New Jersey is still tallying the cost of the storm for them.  Of course, that is only the price of Sandy in dollars.  The price of Sandy in human terms is much higher.  More than 110 people lost their lives to the storm.  There is also the suffering of the survivors.  There is still no power in some areas.  Gas, though no longer rationed, is still in short supply.  People are still scavenging for basic supplies like toiletries and food.  And residents are still picking up the pieces of their shattered homesteads.

Whenever a storm of such magnitude hits, many people begin to wax metaphysical and ask, “Why?”  Why did this storm do so much damage?  Why did this storm hit in the first place?  Why did this storm hit me and ruin my life?  Why?

Over the years, Christians have had no shortage of answers – some good and some not-so-good – to the question, “Why?”  In Puritan New England, earthquakes were quite common.  In 1727, an earthquake of 5.5 on the Richter scale struck the Boston area.  In 1755, an even stronger earthquake of 6.2 struck.  The pastors of that day took these earthquakes signs of God’s judgment and called people to repent of their sins, specifically the sin of greed.  For these clergy, the answer to the “Why?” of natural disasters was quite:  God was angry at unrepentant Puritans.[1]

Blessedly, the theological answers given today are usually more nuanced and biblically sensitive, though this is not always the case.  (One thinks of Pat Robertson’s theologically inept comments following the Haiti earthquake of 2010 when he claimed the disaster specifically and Haiti’s poverty generally was the result of a pact that Haitians made the with the devil back in 1791.)[2]  Generally, however, Christians do not subscribe to such a tit for tat theory of divine retribution. After all, the story of Job unmistakably undermines such a crassly simplistic and moralistic view of retribution.

So what is the answer to the “Why?” of natural disasters, at least as far as God’s involvement is concerned?  Two points that will help us gain clarity concerning this question, even it is not fully answerable, are in order.

First, though it is treacherous to point to specific sins as causes of natural disasters, we can point to sin in general as playing a role in natural disasters.  This much is clear simply by turning the story of history’s first sin.  After Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God says to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you…It will produce thorns and thistles for you” (Genesis 3:17-18).  Thorns and thistles, hurricanes and tornados, earthquakes and blizzards are all due to the sinfulness of this world.  Before the Fall, such things were of no concern.  In this way, natural disasters are not natural at all, but unnatural results of sin.

Second, we must remember that our Lord is concerned about and helps those who suffer the devastating effects of natural disasters.  I cannot help but think of the short, but poignant, story of Jesus’ disciples when they were caught in a violent storm:

Then Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed Him.  Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke Him, saying, “Lord, save us!  We’re going to drown!”  He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this?  Even the winds and the waves obey Him!” (Matthew 8:23-27)

Jesus’ peaceful sleep while the waves are breaking over the bow of the disciples’ boat is a picture that grips me.  For, on the one hand, such a picture encapsulates the feeling of many when a natural disaster devastates their lives.  “Where was Jesus when this disaster hit?  Why didn’t He stop it?  It feels like He was sleeping on the job!”  The disciples of the first century, just like us disciples of the twenty-first century, wrestled with such quandaries.  But on the other hand, Jesus’ peaceful sleep can be of great comfort.  For it reminds us that Jesus is not rattled or roused by the storms and disasters of this world because such storms and disasters have no power over Him.  Quite the contrary.  He has power over them!  This is why, with one little word of rebuke, He can calm the raging wind and waves.

Because Jesus has prevailing sovereignty over creation, we can take refuge in Him, for we know that, even when natural disasters strike, Jesus has everything under control.  As the Psalmist reminds us:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  (Psalm 46:1-3)

The earth may give way, the mountains may fall, the storms may come, but this is still our Father’s world.  He has it under His control and, even more importantly, He has it under His care.

Do not be afraid.


[1] For a brief history of the Puritan response to natural disasters, see John Fea, “Seeing the Hand of God in Natural Disasters,” Patheos Evangelical (8.31.2011).

[2] For Pat Robertson’s comments, see Ryan Smith, Pat Robertson: “Haiti ‘Cursed’ After ‘Pact to the Devil,’” CBS News (1.13.2010).

November 19, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,038 other followers


%d bloggers like this: