What was God saying in that tragedy? Two things. First, we should not think that those who suffered in it are worse sinners than those who did not suffer. Second, in the wake of the tragedy God calls everyone to repent. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Irma and Harvey may go down as the Bonnie and Clyde of tropical hurricanes. My extended family in Texas suffered great loss from the former (though all of their lives were spared, by God’s grace), and now my immediate and church family in Florida are preparing for the onslaught of the latter, which as I type is a Category 5 and headed straight toward us. So both storms have occupied many of my thoughts the last two weeks.
Understandably, people are trying to make sense of these devastating natural disasters. “What is God saying to us?” is the question of the hour. Many of the responses are less than satisfying. Some are extremely unhelpful. As I have listened to these suggestions, Martin Luther’s wise counsel keeps ringing in my ears; “Let the man who would hear God speak, read holy Scripture.”
That doesn’t mean that God does not speak to us in nature or acts of providence. Psalm 19:1-6 and 119:117 make this clear. I think CS Lewis is correct when he writes inThe Problem of Pain,
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it [pain] is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
But Luther is also correct in admonishing us to go to Scripture in order to hear from God. To guard against unhelpful speculations what we must do is let Scripture interpret providence.
So, if pain is God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world,” what is He saying to us in these recent deadly hurricanes?
In Luke 13:1-5 Jesus answers that question by addressing people who were perplexed over the outbreak of both moral atrocities and natural disasters.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 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? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
When the tragedy that resulted because of Pilate’s sinful violence was put to Him (1-3), Jesus did not stop with addressing the lessons that moral evil in the world teach those who do not experience it directly, but He goes on to include the lessons that natural disasters teach us, too.