Natural Disasters—Chance or God?

What is the reason or motive behind these destructive storms, floods, and fires?

This is not a discussion in the abstract. The power, terror, physical destruction, and psychological fear these events bring upon us are real—they can be seen, they can be felt, and they change us. Unless one has “ridden out” the terror of howling wind, rain, thunder, lightning, and fire, or lost a family member or friend, suffered injury or loss of property—along with the memories that are embedded in our homes—it is very difficult to imagine what these catastrophic events are like. 

 

Natural disasters and the destruction they produce—especially to human life and to property—bring to mind our desire to explain both cause and effect. Normally, there are two choices: chance or God. Even as we find scientific cause and effect, the ultimate cause is often thought of as chance—these events just happen. On the other hand, the destructive nature of natural disasters such as hurricanes and fires fueled by fast-moving winds has led some within and without the church to rightly attribute the cause to God but then to specifically assert that God’s motive is his wrath for some perceived human failing. What should we make of this? Chance or God? And what is the reason or motive behind these destructive storms, floods, and fires?

Power, Terror, Destruction

First of all, this is not a discussion in the abstract. The power, terror, physical destruction, and psychological fear these events bring upon us are real—they can be seen, they can be felt, and they change us. Unless one has “ridden out” the terror of howling wind, rain, thunder, lightning, and fire, or lost a family member or friend, suffered injury or loss of property—along with the memories that are embedded in our homes—it is very difficult to imagine what these catastrophic events are like. Hurricanes, floods, and burning are terrifying and destructive. Our hearts reach out to everyone, friend and foe alike, who falls into their path.

Are these natural disasters the products of chance, fate, or the wrath of God? To what do we attribute them?

Considering Psalm 29

Psalm 29 describes a storm building over the Mediterranean Sea while moving from west to east with rain, thunder, and lightning:

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over many waters. (Ps. 29:3)

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. (Ps. 29:7)

The thunder and lightning are described as the voice of the Lord. The lightning of his thunderous voice comes forth like flames of fire. The power of the storm is seen and heard, and it is so powerful that it breaks trees in Lebanon. Surely such a storm strikes fear in those who experience it. Boarding up homes and businesses, evacuation orders, the painfully slow escape on a jam-packed freeway—these are all actions born from a healthy fear and respect for the power of the storm.

Yet the Psalmist has more to say—more to say to us while our emotions are raised by these powerful storms that seem like the thunderous, flashing voice of God.

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