The devastation of hurricanes
In this last week the world has witnessed the second-strongest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history. Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 hurricane had recorded winds of up to 185 mph (or 295 km/h). The hurricane tore across islands of the Caribbean and up into Florida leaving the islands of Barbuda and Saint Martin being described as having been "95% destroyed" by political leaders.
In unprecedented events, closely following Irma is Hurricane Jose. Jose is also affecting the same part of the world. At the time of writing this report, it was reported to be a Category 4 storm with gusts of winds of around 175mph or 280kmph and it's thought it may reach category 5 shortly.
Another hurricane in that part of the world made landfall in Mexico called Hurricane Katia. Although this was only a category 2, it caused mudslides which killed two people. Mexico has also been affected by other natural disasters in this last week, suffering an earthquake which measured 8.1 on the Richter Scale. Ninety people have been confirmed dead in the quake that struck off Mexico's southern coast. The earthquake was reported to be the most powerful to hit Mexico in a century.
Hurricane Irma (left) and Jose (right) - source: windy.com
Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes and millions are without power and water in the aftermath of these devastating events. It is hard not to be sympathetic to the terrible struggle thousands of people now face to try and recover and rebuild their livelihoods.
In times like this it is often asked - why does God allow such events to happen. If there is an all loving God why is it these terrible things take place? To answer this question from a Biblical perspective it is helpful to briefly establish a few key principles.
Suffering a righteous part of mortal life
The Bible teaches that all men deserve to die because they are mortal. Suffering is a part of this mortal existence which we bear. This condition of things was brought into play by Adam who disobeyed God's law in the garden of Eden as testified in Genesis and in the other parts of the Bible which back this account up. Romans is such as example as this:
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…” Romans 5:12
The consequence of Adam's sin (the “one man”) was that of the spreading of mortality into the human race. This principle of mortality passed down from Adam to the next generation and so on up until today. This was the righteous judgment of God who had clearly told man that if he disobeyed God he would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17). We know from other parts of scripture that this death is an unconsciousness. Unlike the churches who teach of an immortal soul and life after death the Bible is clear “in that very day” of death we read in Psalm 146:3-4, our “thoughts perish”. Death means death. A cessation of existence.
Therefore as a species, we are all unfortunate to inherit the mortal nature with all of its sufferings which we are born into. In Ecclesiastes we read of the sad predicament of man:
“For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 3:19
We should not, therefore, think of God as some sort of benevolent "grandfather figure" - who is there to serve our every whim to make us happy. We are the ones in the wrong. Because of our relationship with sin and death we have no right to demand anything of God. Instead of asking why God is not serving us, we would be better to diligently enquire what we might be able to do to serve Him.
God the creator of nature
The Bible tells us that God created all things that are in heaven and earth. He did this through his spirit power (Genesis 1:1-2, Job 33:4, Psalm 104:30). He determined the laws of nature and has power over them. Often in the Bible when we see those natural laws being manipulated by God we read that this is done by the Holy Spirit. A special power which is used to perform miracles.
Typically then the natural order of things is simply running on automatic within the laws that God's spirit has determined. These laws produce things like tides, wind, heat, summer and winter and such like. Left to their own devices these laws can cause devastation to man. This could just be 'chance'. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As we read in Ecclesiastes 9:11 “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
Are natural disasters a punishment from God?
Is everything left to chance then? Is God not interested in His creation? Far from it.
Sometimes God does manipulate the laws of nature for his own purposes. The Bible is full of accounts of such things. For example, we read in Genesis 7 that God caused a flood which destroyed all of the earth apart from those on Noah’s ark. This was a natural disaster caused by God to meet His purposes. Sometimes God does then use seemingly natural powers to punish the wicked.
Other times we read that accidents occur which are not determined to punish anyone. For example The Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 13:4 speaks of one such disaster when he says “Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
In this case, a tower had fallen, perhaps in an earthquake, and eighteen people had lost their lives. Unlike the flood, this was not a direct punishment because these people were more sinful than anyone else. However, Jesus’ message is clear. We must repent else we will suffer the same fate as these did. What fate did they suffer? Eternal death.
A merciful God who is prepared to save a select few on the basis of the gospel
So is this our lot then? To simply live and die, generation after generation with no hope? For the vast majority of mankind the Bible says it is. However, God in His mercy has deemed a way by which some, select few can be saved. It is salvation from death - the root cause of suffering, that God offers through the gospel - the "good news" of the Bible.
We read this in Psalm 49:
“Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.” Pslam 49:20
Presenting a select few with a knowledge and understanding of Him and His purpose throughout the ages is the mechanism that God uses to call His people from the masses of mankind. The Bible tells us that if these few respond in the way God wishes for them to then He is willing to save them. God uses the Gospel - the “good news” as the knowledge by which a person should respond. Consider these passages:
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark 16:15-16
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek”. Romans 1:16
Therefore it is essential to seek out and try to understand God’s gospel message. To look into God’s word to appreciate it, believe it and then act upon it. It is an amazing privilege to be called to the hope contained therein, the hope of Israel as it is called. It contains “the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ” as we read of in Acts 8:12 and Christadelphians have summarised our understanding of this in our statement of faith.
Not universal salvation
However, not everyone is given this opportunity by God but only those who are called - that is to say caused to come into contact with and understand the gospel message. Universal salvation is not something which God has offered. Here are three verses which tell us this:
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;” Ephesians 4:4
“God at the first did visit the Gentiles (non-Jews), to take out of them a people for his name.” Acts 15:14
Suffering a part of the 'called' as well as the 'uncalled'Those God has not called will live out their lives and because of sin and the mortal nature they bear, they will suffer and die. Some will die by natural disasters. God could save them from this but He chooses not to. This is His prerogative. From a human perspective this could be considered abhorrent - but from a Biblical perspective, one could ask why should God choose to stop evil happening to mankind? He has a higher purpose. An eternal purpose which causes natural disasters to pale into insignificance. He has chosen to allow and offer a way of salvation from sin and death on His principles. He has revealed that in His word. How many are happy to listen to that merciful message and conform to His righteous precepts and yet how many blame Him for natural disasters!
Of those he has called, even for them, suffering is still a part of their lives. It is only in the Kingdom age when God, in His mercy, will grant those who have been faithful eternal life that this suffering will end. Suffering teaches us about how futile and feeble man actually is. How powerless mankind is in the face of the full forces of what God has created and can control should He wish to.
In the meantime, those who have been called suffer and can also be subject to hardships and natural disasters. Some may even lose their lives to them and sleep awaiting the resurrection and the hope of eternal life in the Kingdom that Christ will set up on the earth. Unlike the uncalled who perish without knowledge they suffer these things knowing that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
Sometimes suffering is part of God's plan to help change our characters so that we will be more fitted to give Him glory. For example, we read in Proverbs 3:12 “For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth” and in Hebrews 12:6 “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth”.
Therefore suffering and hardship is a part of the life of even those of whom God has a purpose - however, they endure knowing that these things will ultimately be for their good.
God and natural disastersWhen we are therefore faced with news of natural disasters we do well to ponder these things and our fearful personal position before Almighty God. Perhaps God is using these events to further His purpose. Perhaps He is using them to teach lessons. Perhaps he is working with a select few called ones for their good. Perhaps these events are simply “time and chance”. One thing is for sure, mankind does not have the answer to these things. The only hope for us is to accept the righteousness of God. To bow to His authority. To put our trust in Him for the ultimate solution to the problem of suffering and to look forward to the hope of the Kingdom when mortal suffering will be done away with completely. We read of this time in Revelation 21:4
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
How we look forward then to that Kingdom age when Jesus Christ has returned.
This has been Matt Davies joining you for another Bible in the News. Join us again next week God willing.