Severe Tropical Cyclone Marcia at peak intensity on 19 February, 2015 (image courtesy Wikipedia)
By Spencer D Gear
Why does God allow such devastation as we are seeing in Queensland with Cyclone Marcia through central Queensland (ABC News, 23 February 2015) and the floods of December 2010 – January 2011? Here are some photos of the flood devastation in Queensland from the Bundaberg News-Mail.
Bundaberg, Qld. floods, December 2010
The secular media blame it on “mother nature”. The Daily Telegraph, Sydney, 8 January 2011 (NSW’s towns bracing for floods), stated:
MOTHER nature has unleashed its fury in the state’s north with 18 rivers expected to break their banks by tomorrow night as the Queensland floodwaters run south.
ABC News, Australia, 5 January 2011, “Qld floods damage Australia’s economic performance”, reported:
The Queensland floods are hurting the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by wiping as much as $9 billion off export revenues.
Operations at at least 40 coal mines in central Queensland’s Bowen Basin have been disrupted because of the floods, crops have been damaged and grazing lands are under water.
The state is responsible for more than half of Australia’s coal exports, 45 per cent of meat and a quarter of fresh food exports.
Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) senior strategist Sue Trinh says the economic impact of the floods could be the biggest of all the natural disasters Australia has experienced.
But who’s to blame for this? Federal politician, Joe Hockey, opposition treasury spokesman, told ABC news that
“Australia is a rich-enough nation to be able to handle the worst of mother nature – floods, droughts, you name it, all the horrible events that occur on a regular basis at this time of year.”
Some pointed things have been stated about “mother nature” and disasters around the world, but especially amidst the Queensland floods of early 2011:
Who sends the rains? Is it “mother nature” or God Himself? God is very clear about telling us in the Christian Scriptures.
This raises the theological issue of theodicy – a defence of the goodness and omnipotence of God in the midst of evil.
Here are some of my thoughts to point towards a conclusion:
- God sends rain on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45).
- There is the problem of evil and disaster that originated in Genesis 3 with Adam and Eve and the fall into sin. All of creation is suffering from this disobedience. Are flood disasters the outcome of evil in our world? Does God send the cyclones, tornadoes and typhoons to remind us of judgment to come?
- God sends the rain, but human beings in their desire for prosperity (or greed), cluster around rivers and build houses in low-lying areas. Could it be that God sends the rain and human beings create the human conditions so that floods devastate?
I posted comment #3 on Christian Fellowship Forum and Richard W. responded (#37):
Though not theologically satisfying, I think this is a huge part of the problem.
When you build on a flood plain you can expect to be flooded out from time to time. Smart people don’t build in flood plains. Smart insurance companies charge a mighty premium to insure anything in a flood plain. Smart governments do not zone flood plains for residential or commercial industrial purposes. But people still build there, and insurance is cheap backed by the government, and the snow melts and the rain comes.
Floods are often classified as hundred year floods, or five hundred year floods, or thousand year floods. Somehow the hundred year floods are now commonplace and I’ve seen some five hundred year floods and a thousand year flood. Pretty good for being only a little over half a century old myself.
I’m pretty sure the cause of these ‘rare’ floods is that marshes have been drained, farms have been turned into malls with massive parking lots, and every house has a paved driveway and a sidewalk. The water has to go somewhere. The marsh that once held the surplus is no longer there. The water flows downstream. Each upstream city or town or hamlet puts up a levee to protect itself from the flood, pushing the water downstream faster. Who’s to blame? Farmers want higher yield on more acres, so they install drainage ditches. Not so much now as this unsustainable practice now has legal roadblocks that restrict drainage a bit. But almost everything built in the past 100 years has been done at the expense of natural habitat that would soak up considerable water. We have inadvertently engineered floods to be worse than ever.
A flood from 100 years ago could still be quite an event. But now it’s a human made problem. New Orleans was an inevitability. Big floods down the Mississippi this spring are another inevitability. Fargo, on the Red River (which runs North into Canada) looks like it will also an inevitability. At least Fargo is looking at a solution of diverting the river into areas where it has more space to spread out. And they have forbidden rebuilding in many parts of the city. Fargo downtown flooded out a few years back and most of it burned when electrical fires started and spread uncontrollably. Crazy city, but at least they are looking for higher ground AND looking to let the river expand as it wants to, and the government is trying to force the reversal of many old drainage ditches. This are is vital because it is prime wheat growing land that feeds hundreds of millions of people.
The wake up calls have been given. Some people are actually waking up. Rain needs to soak in, and the little bits of excess need to go downstream. We screwed that up and it’s time to fix that before we see too many more thousand year floods. Theologically, God makes the rain to fall on the good and the evil, but the evil have not been good stewards of the land, causing misery and pain and death. Had we been good, we would have farmed with nature, not against nature, and we would not be blaming God for terrible floods.
Another respondent to Christian Fellowship Forum, Jim Parker (#50) also made some interesting, but similar, points to Richard. Jim was responding to my question, “Why does God allow such devastation as we are seeing in Queensland with the floods of December 2010 – January 2011?”
Perhaps it would be more to the point to ask why people insist on building cities on flood plains.
San Francisco was destroyed by a massive earthquake because it is built on a major earthquake fault. So they rebuilt it on the major earthquake fault.
People build homes along the Russian River north of San Francisco. About every 5-7 years their homes are destroyed by floods. They rebuild.
I have a friend who lives in the Florida Keys. The houses there have no ground floor because when huricanes come through they would be flooded. The first floor is 12 feet in the air resting on stilts.
People know the dangers of the places where they build cities and they choose to rebuild them after they are destroyed by “natural disasters” which, having happened once, should be sufficient data to decide to move somewhere else.
But when they don’t and another flood or earthquake just like the last one happened they ask, “Why did God allow this?”
“Watermark” in New Farm Park is red steel sculpture commemorating the 1974 Brisbane flood (courtesy Wikipedia)
I remember when my wife and I lost all that we owned in the Brisbane flood of 1974. I was in theological college and we were living in our caravan (called a trailer in North American lingo), 20 feet long on the banks of the Brisbane River at Graceville, a western Brisbane suburb, where the College was located. The entire college was located in a very low-lying area on the river bank and was devastated. As a result, we lost car and caravan which were parked alongside the College. But it was because of our stupidity of having a caravan and car in a flood-prone zone that we lost it. Never again have we built or located near a flood zone.
4. We do know that there will be an increase in disasters as we approach the second coming of Christ (we don’t know when that will be). Luke 21:23-30 (NLT) states:
“How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. For there will be disaster in the land and great anger against this people. They will be killed by the sword or sent away as captives to all the nations of the world. And Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end.
“And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”
Then he gave them this illustration: “Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near” (New Living Translation).
5. Does God send judgment to people and nations in this life because of the sinfulness of humanity in those nations?
What happened in Noah’s day? The description was that “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11 ESV). When God saw this corruption, he told Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Gen. 6:13).
God’s judgment happened in this life because of the corruption of humanity in Noah’s time. Why should God think any differently of Haiti’s earthquake or Australia’s floods? What have these countries done to promote sinfulness and corruption?
I think there is enough biblical evidence to support God’s judgment of people and nations.
6. Tragedy may cause us to re-evaluate priorities.
Tragedy, whether through cyclones, floods, earthquakes or other devastation, may jolt us to rethink and change priorities. If we build in flood-prone zones near a river, losing many possessions may cause us to see the damage that a materialistic philosophy can do. I’m reminded of that Jesus said about wealth on earth:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:19-21 NIV).
7. There are reasons why God allows Christians to suffer.
To understand this biblical teaching, I recommend the article, “Ten reasons for suffering in the Christian life”. I’m not convinced that all suffering is caused by sin or disobedience. The Christians who have suffered persecution, whether in the southern Sudan, under Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Stalin, etc., did not commit sin but suffered for being Christian believers. What happened to them is what Jesus predicted:
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you (John 15:18-19 NIV).
As a personal example, when I was a child at age 6, 10 and 12, I suffered 3 bouts of rheumatic fever that left me with a leaking mitral heart valve. Since 1983 I have had five open-heart surgeries (1983, 1987, 1988, 2003, 2013) to insert mechanical valves to correct this abnormality. To my knowledge, the rheumatic fever was not caused by my personal sin, but is a consequence for my being born in sin as a result of Adam & Eve’s fall into sin (Genesis 3).
8. Does the Book of Job shed some light?
On Christian Fellowship Forum, I shared some information about the Queensland floods of 2010-11 and received this reply on the topic, “Why does God allow floods to devastate?” from lrschrs (Chris) at #5 (I have corrected his spelling errors):
I think that the book of Job gives us the best answer to the question, that is, We Do Not Know, but God does know what He is going on about, and we should be silent before Him in worship, wonder, and praise.
That God has ordained the weather to be what it is is true, there are no things outside His loving providence and thus we can be confident even when all around us fails, as Habakkuk noted, no mad molecule, no runaway nature, He does have the whole world in His hands, and He holds us, and holds us dear. [Hab. 3:17-19].
That sin has entered the world is true, though how it effects such things I think is more indirect, for while all nature groans in an effect of sin how this is so is not revealed to us, Rom. 8:18-22.
One aspect of sin in the world is the lack of wisdom that builds things on flood plains or in denial of the common droughts of an area, and then wonders why we have wet or dry weather as usual. We build below sea level and wonder why things get wet at times.
Another reason can be divine judgment and blessing on a society, though here we are told not to be hasty and judge by appearances, for we don’t know all in any case, Luke 13:4. Here we need to avoid the twin errors or naturalism, an impersonal cosmos, on one hand, and moralism, or a world of simplistic this for that, on the other. The world is not a mechanical system but a system of mechanisms that is open to the personal providence of God and directed toward the ends He has appointed for all things.
I think all talk of ‘mother nature’ is foolish, for nature does not do anything, that is, act on choices it makes, but it only happens in accord with its construction and direction.
But in the end I think we have to rest in God and in what can be called the ‘mystery of providence’, we simply do not know why some things go as they do and others as they do, Maybe we can see some hints at times, like buildings in foolish places leave us good grounds to consider human folly at work, but in the end we must be silent before His works, adore the Lord even in hard times, for He knows what He is doing, and get on with our calling to comfort the afflicted and help the neighbor
I responded to Chris (I’m ozspen #12):
I agree that the Book of Job causes us who believe in the sovereign Lord to say that we do not know the answers for the Haiti earthquake, the Pike River mine disaster in New Zealand and the floods in Australia.
You and I can understand this as believers and accept this from the sovereign hand of the Lord. However, unbelievers see this as a God who is an evil so-and-so who would bring such devastation.
How do you respond to unbelievers? To say, “We do not know the answers”, could be cause for them to not believe in this kind of God – become agnostic or atheistic towards him.
What is your response to Aussies who say, “Your God doesn’t give a damn about ordinary people. Look what he has done with the floods at Chinchilla, Dalby, Theodore, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Maryborough and Gympie. He’s a monster”.
To say, “Go to the Book of Job and you will see that we do not know”, is hardly a satisfactory answer to questioning Aussies who want to know the nature of this horrific God who would do this to people.
How would you reply?
A woman trapped on the roof of her car awaits rescue during the Toowoomba flash flood (Dec 2010-Jan 2011, courtesy Wikipedia)
What if Mother Nature’s fury is the curse?
If there is no God and the devastating floods that are happening in Queensland are due to the inanimate Mother Nature, why are we bad-mouthing Mother Nature? Qld premier, Anna Bligh, has stated that “Mother Nature is unleashing something shocking” in the Toowoomba disaster.
If this devastation is to be blamed on Mother Nature, whatever he, she or it might be, if there is no God then why is she and others griping about these things? If God is not in charge of these things, then he must be just as frustrated as we are.
Surely, the floods in Qld should be pointing us to a higher purpose in life than what we are acknowledging. I haven’t heard or read this kind of response: “We have been ignoring God, kicking Him out of our lives for so long. It’s about time He got our attention to focus on ultimate issues in life”.
God has promised that he will not strike the earth again like he did in Noah’s day (see Genesis 8:21). Jesus Christ warned us that before Christ’s second coming there would be strange signs in the sun, moon and stars, along with roaring seas and strange tides. People would be terrified by what they see on the earth (see Luke 21:25-28).
If there is no God who sends the rain on the just and the unjust, why are we kicking up such a stink about the actions of Mother Nature?
These floods should be a wake-up call about ultimate issues for all, not just Queenslanders. This kind of a response to a “Mother Nature” cause, will not be appreciated by those who interpret life emotionally.
Disasters and God’s judgment
I received an email with the content of this blog (below) under the heading, “Japan denounced Israel exactly 1 year before earthquake and tsunami”. This blog appeared at Armageddononline.com #257:
Ron Reese from 5 Doves has discovered that ON MARCH 11TH, EXACTLY ONE YEAR AGO, JAPAN DENOUNCES ISRAEL!!! http://www.mofa.go.jp/announce/annou…3/0311_01.html
Exactly 1 year ago March 11, 2010…The exact day of the 9.0 earthquake in Japan hit a year later in 2011.
Genesis 12:3 “I will Bless those who Bless (Israel), and Curse Those Who Curse you.”
Remember, America forced Israel to remove 8,000 Israeli’s from their homes in Gaza, then came Katrina where America lost 800,000 houses in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama.
Japan demanded that Israel not build 1,600 housing units in east Jerusalem. After the 9.0 earthquake Japan may have to rebuild 1.6 million homes.
God is not mocked! Pay attention America!
A more detailed comment by Ron Reese is in, ‘Ron Reese (15 March 2011) “On March 11th, exactly one year ago, Japan denounces Israel!!!’
What are we to make of those who want to link Japan’s actions (sins?) against Israel with the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on 11th March 2011?
Jesus will not allow us to draw the conclusion that the Japanese, because of their response to Israel, are any more sinful than we are. This is clearly stated in Luke 13:1-5:
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” (ESV).
To paraphrase Jesus for Aussies today, based on Luke 13:1-5: There are people present today who speak about the Japanese who denounced Israel one year before the tsunami. Jesus answers these who see this as judgment against Japan: “Do you think that these Japanese are worse sinners than all Australians because they acted in this way? No, says Jesus. I tell you: but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”.
We do not have the right to pronounce that the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear meltdown are God’s judgment on Japan – based on Luke 13:1-5. Providing judgment is God’s job and he will do it in our time. God has told us (Luke 14) that we all are sinners who need to repent and the Japanese crisis should be a reminder that all sinners need to repent.
One of the ways of responding to doubters of the biblical text and its teaching is to use …
I learned this when I was studying Jim Kennedy’s gospel presentation in Evangelism Explosion.
Often as you begin presenting the gospel, the person will say something like, “I don’t believe the Bible. You’ll have to convince me some other way than referring to the Scriptures.” Many people are devastated by this objection. What happens to them? Their attempt to share Christ fizzles.
This need not be the case. I want to encourage you to use this objection as a springboard into the gospel itself. The Apostle Paul, when he preached in Greek cities that had no background in the Bible, appealed to the Scriptures even though the people who listened to him did not believe the Bible.
He proclaimed to them and the Holy Spirit used the proclamation to save some who then came to believe the Bible to be true. When we witness, our primary function is to proclaim the gospel, not defence of the Bible. BUT when people object to the Bible, we DO NEED good answers to respond. And there ARE EXCELLENT answers.
The judo technique works like this. The objection, “I don’t believe the Bible,” is quite an easy one to deal with. Don’t use the approach of a boxer who meets the blow head on and tries to overwhelm the opponent with counter punches. Instead use the technique of the judo expert. The force of the opponent’s blow is used to throw the opponent.
Here’s how it works in presenting the gospel. The person who objects, “I don’t believe the Bible,” usually has some university education, or has been exposed to some course in the Bible, or biblical criticism or something like that.
There is often some intellectual pride that says or infers something like this: “I used to believe those fairy tales when I was in kindy, but now I am an educated person and am far above believing those things.” It is this intellectual pride that can be used to turn this objection into an opportunity for presenting the gospel. I suggest this kind of dialogue with the person who objects.
“You don’t believe the Bible, John? That’s very interesting and it certainly is your privilege not to believe it, and I would fight for that right on your part. However, if the Bible is true then obviously you must accept the consequences.
“But I would like to ask you a question. The main message of the Bible, which has been unquestionably the most important literary work in human history, is how a person may have eternal life. So what I would like to know is: What do you understand that the Bible teaches about how a person may have eternal life and go to heaven?”
He may say that he does not believe in eternal life. To this you might say, “I’m not asking you what you believe, but I am asking you what you understand. It would be a rather unintellectual approach to reject the world’s most important book without understanding even its main message, would it not? What do you understand that the Bible teaches as to how a person may have eternal life? What is your understanding about what the Bible teaches on this subject?”
My experience is that over 90% will respond by saying that it is by keeping the Ten Commandments or following the Golden Rule or imitating the example of Christ, doing good, or something like that.
You might respond something like this: “That is just what I was afraid of, John. You have rejected the Bible without even understanding its main message, for your answer is not only incorrect, but it is diametrically opposite to what the Bible teaches. Now, don’t you think that the more intellectual approach would be to let me share with you what the Scriptures teach on this subject and then you can make an intelligent decision whether to reject or accept it?”
Now the tables have been completely turned. Instead of being superior to the Scripture and even above listening to it, he now finds himself ignorant of even its basic message. Now he must decide whether to listen to the message of the Scriptures or be found to be not only ignorant but also some obscure person who opposes intellectual advancement — and wants to remain in his ignorance.
This is the last thing in the world that his intellectual pride will allow him to be. So, very often he will give you permission to tell him the gospel. It is at this point that you pray with vigour that the Holy Spirit will take the gospel, which is the power of God to salvation, and use it to awaken him from the deadness because of sin.
Bundaberg, Qld. floods, December 2010
|God is sovereign. As the Creator of all things visible and invisible, He is the owner of all, has an absolute right to rule over all, and He exercises this authority in the universe (Henry C. Thiessen 1949:173).
See: 1 Chronicles 29:11; Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 45:9; Ezekiel 18:4; Daniel 4:35; Matthew 20:15; Romans 9:14-24; 11:36; Ephesians 1;11; 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 4:11.
Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 June 2016.