The Hidden Cause of Natural Disasters
When natural disasters strike, we often wonder why these things happen. Sometimes we look for someone to blame. Why do we experience natural disasters?
Auckland, New Zealand, where I live, recently experienced its worst climatic event, with a flood that caught Kiwis totally off guard. The amount of rain that fell in 24 hours broke all previous records (245 millimeters, or 9.6 inches). The average January rainfall is 2 millimeters (or .07 inches) per day, but on Friday, Jan. 27, within three hours, 150 millimeters (or 5.9 inches) of rain fell.
To put it in context, there was more rainfall in a single day than the total amount of rainfall that New Zealand has received during any recorded summer season.
The rains turned residential streets into rivers and brought Auckland to a standstill. Our airport, motorways and central business district were all essentially underwater. Floodwaters caused landslides and sinkholes, which destroyed homes, derailed trains and caused large sections of highways to collapse and wash away. And all this came just 17 days after the east coast of New Zealand was hit by Cyclone Hale.
But New Zealand isn’t the only place recently hit by record-breaking natural disasters:
- Chile is being battered by wildfires amid record-breaking heat.
- East Asia is experiencing extremely cold weather, with subzero temperatures all the way to Afghanistan. Mohe, a city in north China, experienced its coldest day ever at -53 degrees Celsius (-63.4 Fahrenheit).
- Turkey and Syria were hit by a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake followed by another powerful 7.5 earthquake several hours later. The devastation is widespread, leaving buildings in ruins and killing more than 41,000. (For more on this disaster, read our blog post, “Powerful Earthquakes Hit Turkey and Syria: Making Sense of the Tragedy.”)
- California faced devastating floods after experiencing a bomb cyclone at the turn of the new year.
These disasters are happening more often and are increasing in severity. Can the Bible shed light on why natural disasters are getting more severe and deadly?
Disasters expose existing issues
When natural disasters hit, they often expose underlying issues and challenges within a nation. Some of these issues include:
- Inadequate infrastructure and planning. Natural disasters can highlight the need for better infrastructure and emergency preparedness plans, including early warning systems and evacuation plans.
- Economic disparities. Disasters often disproportionately impact poorer populations, as they suffer more damage or lack the resources to recover from a major disaster.
- Environmental degradation. Human activities such as deforestation, pollution and land-use changes can make natural disasters worse.
- Racial and ethnic tensions. In the aftermath of a disaster, unequal access to resources and aid can fuel tensions and conflicts along racial and ethnic lines.
- Poor building materials or workmanship. Poorly constructed buildings not built to proper standards, or that used substandard materials, result in greater damage when disaster hits.
- Political polarization. In the wake of a disaster, politicians often play the blame game against the other party for the devastating consequences of a disaster.
- Societal breakdown. In a disaster, law and order can fall apart, providing an opportunity for criminals and opportunists to loot and for discontented citizens to riot.
But natural disasters don’t just reveal physical problems in our world. They can also reveal a deeper problem that is not always as easy to identify.
Separated from God
The Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning.” The first verse of the Bible gives a very broad summary of what God did. He “created the heavens and the earth.” But the second verse shows the earth in a terrible state, being “without form, and void.”
The Hebrew word for “without form” is tohu, meaning a state of confusion and desolation. The verse continues to describe the earth as being in darkness and covered in water, a state of destruction. It wasn’t created in this state—God does not create anything in a state of vanity and desolation (Isaiah 45:18). No, it became like this. (To learn more, read “The Gap Theory.”)
It seems this destruction was caused when an angelic being, Lucifer, led a massive angelic rebellion against God. This resulted in his fall from heaven to this earth (Isaiah 14:12-14; Luke 10:18). He then became known as Satan, meaning “adversary.” He is also our adversary (1 Peter 5:8). (To learn more, read “The Fall of Satan.”)
When God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden, He commanded them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:7-9, 17). But unfortunately, Adam and Eve decided to listen to Satan and disobey God’s command (Genesis 3:1-6). As a result, they were removed from the garden and were cut off from access to the tree of life (verses 22-23).
Being outside the safe confines of the garden meant that they no longer enjoyed God’s complete protection and blessings.
Satan’s influence on mankind
The Bible reveals that Satan is the god of this world, who blinds people to God’s way of life (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan has influenced mankind to perform great wickedness. He perverts human beings’ thoughts toward doing evil and violence (Genesis 6:5, 11-13) by broadcasting his attitudes of hatred and rebellion (Ephesians 2:2).
Because of how bad the world got in those early days, God destroyed the world through the Flood, the greatest natural disaster in all human history. This flood killed everybody except the eight people God saved in the ark (Genesis 6:17; 1 Peter 3:20).
Tragically, after the Flood, the world went back to evil. Human beings have continued to be influenced by Satan to sin (Romans 5:12). In fact, Jesus warned that people in the end time would be very similar to the people of Noah’s day. (To learn more, read “As in the Days of Noah: Warnings for Today.”)
So, does this mean we have a responsibility for natural disasters?
The law of cause and effect
When the prophet Daniel reflected on his nation’s demise and the resulting captivity of his people, he prayed to God for the sins of the nation and included his own sins in his prayer (Daniel 9:5-11). Then he identified why the disasters had come upon them: “As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us” (verse 13).
Bible prophecy shows that natural disasters will get worse as mankind drifts further away from God. When the sins of a people reach a certain point, God can express His anger and correction through the weather (Nahum 1:3-5).
Jesus prophesied that natural disasters would increase in the end times and there would be “earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:7). The Greek word for earthquake is seismos (from which the English word seismic is derived). But this word can mean more than just earthquakes. Its literal meaning is “to move to and fro, to shake.” It’s translated as a “tempest” in the sea—a violent windstorm—in Matthew 8:24.
As we approach the end times, we are seeing an increase in the frequency and intensity of geological and climatic shakings (including tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes).
Though suffering is set to increase, we can thank God that it won’t stay that way. God has a plan to end suffering and death altogether.
What is the solution to human suffering?
Many ask the question, “Why does God allow all this suffering?”
But, as we read earlier, the Creator God is not the active god of this world. Satan is. The good news is that God has a plan in motion to unseat Satan and bring in everlasting righteousness through the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
As part of this plan, God will intervene to stop our self-annihilation (Matthew 24:22). The world will experience greater and greater natural disasters, but it won’t be totally destroyed by them.
Ultimately, under God’s rule, the inspiring prophecy of Revelation 21:4 will be fulfilled: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
But we don’t have to wait until God forcibly changes this world. We can change now by genuinely repenting and turning toward God.