Are natural disasters ‘acts of God’?

April 13th, 2015 | Posted by jameswatkins in Uncategorized

April 2015

Last Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the deadly Palm Sunday tornadoes that ripped through Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. Nearly 50 twisters (15 significant, 17 violent, 21 killers) killed 271 and injured 1,500 people.

Insurance companies describe these disasters as “acts of God,” but how much responsibility for earthquakes, floods, blizzards, typhoons, tornadoes can be laid at the foot of his throne? Here’s a piece I posted after Hurricane Katrina (August 2005):

First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers are with the people of the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina rained down destruction of biblical proportions on New Orleans. But is this a direct act of God upon a city with a reputation as being, shall we say, less than godly?

Wednesday’s headline announced “Hurricane hits just before homosexual event; Christian activist: Act of God prevented ‘Southern Decadence’.” The article went on to report:

      Hurricane Katrina walloped New Orleans just two days before the annual homosexual “Southern Decadence” festival was to begin in the town, an act being characterized by some as God’s work. Southern Decadence has a history of “filling the French Quarters section of the city with drunken homosexuals engaging in sex acts in the public streets and bars,” says a statement from the Philadelphia Christian organization Repent America.

Thursday,’s headline quoted a Kuwaiti government official as claiming “The terrorist Katrina is a soldier of Allah.” Muhammad Yousef Al-Mlaifi, director of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Endowments, reportedly said:

      I opened the Koran and began to read in Surat Al-R’ad [‘The Thunder’ chapter], and stopped at these words [of Allah]: “The disaster will keep striking the unbelievers for what they have done. . . .”

I, however, tend to believe the blame for this tragedy lies not with God, but with French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier for founding a city below sea level surrounded by a lake, river, and ocean. What was he thinking?!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin wrote, following December’s tsunami, that when God commanded Adam and Eve to “subdue the earth” He was giving humans two commands:

      Our first distinctive cultural imperative is to render ourselves less vulnerable to nature. We believed we were following Divine will when we developed medicine and medical technology to dominate disease. We found insecticides to protect our food supply, and we built dams to control rivers. We knew we were pleasing God by making ourselves safer and more secure, and this knowledge lent added urgency and meaning to our efforts. Not by coincidence did the overwhelming majority of these scientific and technical developments take place in the West.

      Civilization`s second distinctive cultural imperative is the importance of preserving human life. This too derives directly from our biblical roots and distinguishes us from the peculiar fatalism toward death found in so many other cultures.

      God runs this world with as little supernatural interference as possible. Earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and, yes, tsunamis happen. It is called nature, which is not always benign. Fortunately, God also gave us intelligence and commanded us to make ourselves less vulnerable to nature. He also implanted in us a culture in which each and every life is really important. Many of those fatalities are attributable to misguided cultures.

“Misguided” certainly describes New Orleans original city engineers!

We live in a fallen world of natural disasters, disease, deadly animals— and humans— bent on evil. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve were the last people to live in a perfect world. But God continues to love his creations and creation and desires us to reach out to those affected by disaster.

Copyright © 2005 James N. Watkins

There were no warnings prior to the Palm Sunday tornadoes in 1965. Last Thursday, tornadoes raced through Illinois, completely obliterating the community of Fairdale. Despite it being a powerful EF-4, only one person was killed and just 12 injured, due to advanced radar that can now issue watches 24 hours in advance and detect twisters as they form.

So be prepared and informed as another line of severe weather moves across the Midwest today. But most of all, trust the Lord of life and death:

      For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:7-8).

      No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

Copyright © 2015 James N. Watkins

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2 Responses

  • Pam Halter says:

    Natural disasters may not always be God’s way of punishing evil, but He is surely in control of it. Read Job 37-41. Unless I don’t understand the meaning of what was written, it sure looks to me like there are times when He does use weather as His judgment. For example: Job 37:13 (NIV) “He brings the clouds to punish men, or to water his earth and show his love.”

    Your thoughts?

    • Pam, God doesn’t invite me to his planning meetings, so in all honesty I have no insider information.. Yes, Job seems to imply that God does use weather to bless and curse. However, Jesus seems to have a very different message:

      “For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” (Matthew 5:45).

      It’s part of the new message of grace. Here’s another passage that makes me think that God no longer sends judgment on the people of earth:

      “About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. ‘“Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?’ Jesus asked. ‘Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? 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).

      Like I said, God doesn’t invite me to his planning meetings, but I do know that–for now–we are living in his grace. There will come a day of final judgment.

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