Several years ago in my hometown, a man was driving down the highway with his wife when a tree fell down across the highway, landed right on the cab of their pickup truck, and killed them both.
Later that week, I was in a church service in which the pastor referenced the freak accident and said, “Do you think that kind of thing happened by accident? There’s no way.”
I grimaced internally when he said that, wondering if the couple had any friends or relatives in the congregation. But as insensitive as the comment may have been, it hit a nerve for another reason: Christians like me are more comfortable invoking the idea of God’s sovereignty in good times than in bad. And nowhere is that more evident than in natural disasters.
We’re understandably uncomfortable giving God the credit when it comes to hurricane winds crushing helpless grandmothers in their homes or floods drowning children. If the winds and waves obey Jesus, why wouldn’t he step in and help all of those in harm’s way? Fortunately, Jesus provided some insight into this when he addressed a crowd and talked about a different type of “natural disaster”—one involving gravity.
“[W]hat about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them?” Jesus asks. “Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.” (Luke 13:1-5).
Jesus taps into something that makes a lot of us uneasy. Many prefer to see him as a wise guru who preached a general message of world peace and non-judgment. But when it comes to the question of “why” with disasters, he gets to the heart of the issue and focuses on the potential disaster that threatens everyone who ever lived: the day they meet God face to face.
Jesus said, “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in [me]. But anyone who does not believe in [me] has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18). He says that those who do not believe in him and live for him “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46). That’s not the Jesus most of us want to talk about—especially in times where people are suffering the awful effects of natural disasters. But that’s where Jesus went in the face of disaster, so we would do well to go there with him.
When we go there with Jesus, we discover the good news that God is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). And in God’s efforts to keep us from eternally perishing, he will use everything he can to get our attention—even things he might not have caused, like the devastation that comes with a natural disaster.
As C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” If we listen to him, we will hear him shouting our names from the cross, where he went through the worst pain possible in order to bring each of us into his family.
As we watch the footage of people fighting helplessly in the face of nature’s wrath, we should contemplate the day when we will all face God and answer for how we responded to the gift of his Son. On that day, we will only survive the storm if we have already thrown ourselves at the mercy of the only one who can provide the eternal shelter our souls need in this life and the next.