What About Natural Disasters?

2017 has had its share of troubles, especially in the Southeast United States, with disastrous hurricanes.  And the islands of the Caribbean have been devastated as well.  These may have prompted people to have real questions about God.  Several years ago, I wrote two articles which dealt with natural disasters and personal evil that appeared in the Huntsville Times.  Last week I reprinted the article on personal evil.  This week I give you my take on natural disasters.

WHAT IS GOD TRYING TO SAY?

I’ve heard it several times over the years, “Floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, what is God trying to tell us?”  Why do we assume that every time some natural disaster occurs, God is trying to say something by it?  Even though such events used to be referred to as “acts of God”, why are they any more acts of God than bright, sunshiny days?  Why do we not wonder what God is trying to say to us when everything goes well and life is in balance?

I believe in a God who has the power to create this vast universe.  But I also believe that God set in motion certain natural cause and effect processes.  For the most part those things work out for the best for the greatest number of people. Unfortunately, sometimes those events conflict with our human agendas and cause what we see as tragedy.

Most of us would assume floods to be bad.  When floods happen, there can be great destruction and at the very least great disruption in our lives.  Yet in ancient Egypt, the flooding Nile River enabled early civilization to rise to great heights.  In that time, the lack of flooding was a negative thing.

Most of us see gravity as a positive thing.  It keeps us from flying off into space and holds our atmosphere in place around us.  Yet sometimes gravity can be hurtful. In the late 1960’s, a teenager named Joni Eareckson (now Tada) dove into shallow water in Maryland and was paralyzed from the neck down. In trying to make sense of it, Joni asked her minister why God allowed it to happen.  His answer has stayed with me for fifty years. “God does not suspend the law of gravity for one person’s benefit.”

The folly of thinking that God will do as we desire is seen when prayers come into direct conflict.  A family heading out for a picnic prays for a sunny day.  At the same time, a farmer whose crop is about to die prays for rain.  God cannot answer both prayers at the same time.  So most of the time, we see the laws of science (which really are God’s laws) prevail.  The Bible says, “[God] sends the rain upon the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45)  Whether that is good or bad is in the perspective of the person.

On most mornings, rain or shine, I am out walking my dog around sunrise.  It certainly is nicer for us when it is dry.  Many times I see glorious displays of color as the sun comes up over Keel Mountain.  But sometimes we walk in the rain and I give thanks for that as well, because it keeps our world green and fertile.  Most of the time, I just try to thank God for life and the enjoyment of it.

What is God trying to say to us?  I am not sure God is saying anything special in many events that make news.  But I know that when I am out in the beauty of God’s creation, I feel God’s presence and love.  Why not try to see God more in the everyday events of life, rather than worry about some great epiphany of judgment or cataclysm?  God’s greatest message to us comes in nature, in the Bible, and in relationships with those we love.  That message is that life is precious, each of us is valuable and a loving Creator is willing to pay any price to make us God’s own.

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About edwardsoule

The Rev. Dr. Edward A. Soule is now a retired United Methodist pastor who served 28 years as a minister in churches around the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. Before that, he was in Christian radio for 10 years and was a Baptist minister for two years. Over the years, Ed has also been a teacher in public schools, a private school principal, and taught at a Bible college. He has a B.A. from Bethel University, St. Paul, MN; a M. Div. from Bethel Theological Seminary; and a D. Min. from United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH. Ed has been married to Deborah (Mendelson) for 32 years. She is the executive director of Partnership for a Drug Free Community. They currently reside in the Hampton Cove community of Huntsville, AL, where Ed enjoys walking with their dog, Churchill, daily and keeping up the landscaping. "Dr. Edward" is available to speak to churches and other groups, pulpit supply, and interim work in the north Alabama/southern Tennessee area. Contact through this blog or directly at edsoule@comcast.net.
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