Hurricane Harvey dumped over 9 trillion gallons of water over the greater Houston area and Southeast Texas, enough to occupy 33,906 Empire State Buildings, from basement to penthouse. The flooding was the worst in U.S. history!
Biblically, there are 3 explanations for the occurrence of natural disasters.
1) The Natural World – Prior to the fall of man, Adam and Eve walked in a world of perfect harmony and balance, without natural disasters. We live in a fallen world, one that is in the painful process of giving birth to a new creation.
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. – Romans 8:22
2) Satan – God has given Satan limited power to affect this world. We see this in the book of Job when God allowed Satan to bring natural calamity into Job’s life.
Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD. – Job 1:12
3) God – In order to accomplish His purposes in this world, God also brings natural calamity.
The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these. – Isa 45:7
And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. – 1 Kings 19:11-12.
It is a shallow oversimplification to say that all natural disasters have the same cause, or that man can know all the motives of God when He “allows” or “causes” calamity. No matter the cause, the fact should not escape us that God can also bring amazing good out of the worst disasters.
1) God can teach us through catastrophic disaster
a) Dr. Edwin Lutzer says, “Natural disasters are a megaphone from God and they teach us various lessons.” Such times bring humility in reminding us of the uncertainty of life, and how small and needy we are.
b) Disasters also remind us of what lies ahead for this world before the return of Christ.
For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. – Matthew 24:14
c) Disasters should motivate us to long for and help hasten the day in which there are no more natural disasters. We do this by reaching those who do not yet know Him with the Gospel.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. – 2Peter 3:10-13
2) Disaster becomes a stage upon which the Church can display the compassion and glory of God.
a) The visible functioning of the Body of Christ – During Harvey, Christians and non-Christians alike did heroic deeds. But the community of Christ, coordinated by the Spirit of God, rose up immediately as a force for good, not as an organization, but as an organism that, by its works, was visible to the watching world.
b) Long term commitment – Only time will tell, but if Harvey is like other disasters, Christians and the Body of Christ will be engaged for the long haul. Many people in the world have an internal reservoir from which they draw to do good works. But human reservoirs have a limit. Those who draw from the Living God in order to serve are drawing from a well-spring without end.
c) Hope – In a disaster, people need hope. Pro. 13:12 tells us that “hope deferred makes the heart grow sick.” Several times during Harvey, the news media interviewed pastors. Many of those interviews concluded with the news person asking the pastor to pray for the city. True hope is based, not on our circumstances or on wishful thinking. The hope that Christians have to share is rooted in the Author of hope, the One who is not limited by anything, and with Whom all things are possible!