“I think it is tembatsu (divine punishment), although I feel sorry for disaster victims,” said a leading Japanese politician after that country was hit by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a tsunami in March 2011.
When more than 220,000 people were killed in the earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010, a prominent televangelist claimed that it was because they “swore a pact to the devil” and needed to have a “turning to god.”
“God wants to awaken our deadened and indifferent conscience,” declared a Catholic priest when 79 people died in a stampede in Manila, Philippines. A newspaper there reported that “twenty-one percent of adults believe God is unleashing his wrath with landslides, typhoons and other disasters” that frequently pummel the country.
THE belief that God brings about disasters to punish bad people is not new. In 1755, after some 60,000 people perished in an earthquake, a fire, and a tsunami that hit Lisbon, Portugal, well-known philosopher Voltaire queried: “Was then more vice in fallen Lisbon found, than Paris, where voluptuous joys abound?” Indeed, millions have wondered if God is using natural disasters to punish people. In many countries such disasters are in fact called acts of God.
In view of all of this, we need to ask: Has God really been using natural disasters to punish people? Is the recent barrage of disastrous events punishment from God?
In their rush to blame God, some point to Bible accounts where God brought destruction by natural elements. (Genesis 7:17-22;18:20; 19:24, 25; Numbers 16:31-35) An examination of these Bible accounts shows, however, that in each case, there are three major distinguishing factors. First, there was warning beforehand. Second, unlike today’s natural disasters, which kill good and bad people alike, destruction from God was selective. Only the incorrigibly wicked or those who refused to listen to warnings were destroyed. Third, God made a way for innocent people to escape.—Genesis 7:1, 23; 19:15-17; Numbers 16:23-27.
In the countless disasters that have wreaked havoc on the lives of millions of people today, there is no evidence that God was behind them. What, then, accounts for the apparent increase in such disasters? How can we cope with them? And will there ever be a time when disasters are no more?
The number of reported disasters has also climbed noticeably over the past several decades. For example, between 1975 and 1999, well under 300 disasters were recorded each year. However, between 2000 and 2010, the average was close to 400 per year. Perhaps you are among those who wonder, ‘Why are there so many disasters now?’
Although people often label such disasters as “acts of God,” this is really a misnomer. God is not behind the calamities that affect so many people today. Nevertheless, the Bible did foretell that there would be disasters in our time. For example, at Matthew 24:7, 8, we read Jesus’ words: “There will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress.” Why did Jesus foretell these events, and what meaning do they have for us?
God’s Son, Jesus, was speaking in answer to the question posed to him: “What will be the sign . . . of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matthew 24:3) He told of various things that would happen, including calamities like those mentioned above. He then went on to make this significant statement: “When you see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Luke 21:31) Those natural disasters, therefore, have great significance for us. They point to a time of momentous changes just ahead.
Forces Contributing to Disasters
Nevertheless, many people still ask, If God is not responsible for the disasters, who or what is? We can understand the answer only if we recognize an important truth mentioned in the Bible: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) This verse reveals that it is not God who is behind the distressing conditions in the world, but in many cases, it is his enemy, “the wicked one”—otherwise referred to in the Bible as “the Devil.”—Revelation 12:9, 12.
Guided by his own self-serving objective, this enemy of God views people as disposable. Since he has the whole world under his control, he has promoted that same spirit among mankind. Indeed, the Bible points to this by foretelling that in “the last days,” people will be “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 2) Hence, it is no surprise that the Devil has created a global system that thrives on those and other ungodly traits. He encourages selfish and greedy exploitation that often puts people in harm’s way.
In what way does today’s greedy system promote disasters? A United Nations report on global disasters states: “Populations are too often being concentrated in risky areas such as flood plains. In addition, the destruction of forests and wetlands is harming the capacity of the environment to withstand hazards. Looming above all this is the threat of global climate change and rising sea levels as a result of increased greenhouse gas concentrations . . . caused by human activity.” Though much of this “human activity” is said to be for economic progress, it is in reality the work of the selfish and greedy spirit that permeates the world.
Consequently, many experts now recognize that indiscriminate human activity has intensified the devastating effects of the disasters that occur. In reality, humans have played into the Devil’s hands by supporting a system that exacerbates disasters.
We see, then, that many disasters are the result of careless human activity. Some disasters would not have been as devastating were it not for where they occurred. In many parts of the world, the effects of natural disasters have been greatly aggravated by the underhanded dealings of unscrupulous individuals or by the fact that masses of people have been forced to live in hazardous areas as a result of the economic or social inequalities inherent in the world today. Of course, some people suffer in disasters, not because of any particular person’s fault or negligence, but because “time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.”—Ecclesiastes 9:11.
Whatever the reason, should you be the victim of a natural disaster, how can you cope? What can be done to lessen the impact when calamities occur.
Keep out of the path of calamity.
“Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty,” says the Bible. (Proverbs 22:3) This is wise counsel that can apply to disasters. If a warning is given about an impending volcanic eruption, probable flooding, or an approaching hurricane or typhoon, wisdom dictates that those in the affected area evacuate and get to safer ground. Life is more valuable than a house or other material things.
For some, it might be possible to choose not to live in an area of high risk. One authority says: “Disaster risk is geographically highly concentrated. A very small portion of the Earth’s surface contains most of the risk and most future large-scale disasters will occur in these areas.” This may be true, for example, in low-lying coastal regions or in areas near fault lines in the earth. If you can avoid living in such high-risk areas or can move to a safer location, you may greatly reduce your risk of suffering from disasters.
Have a plan of action.
In spite of all precautions taken, you may still find yourself a victim of an unexpected tragedy. Coping with it will be much easier if you have planned in advance. This is also in harmony with the advice at Proverbs 22:3, quoted earlier. Do you have an emergency kit prepared and ready to go? The publication 1-2-3 of Disaster Education recommends including the following items: First-aid supplies, bottled water, nonperishable food, and important documents. It would also be wise to review with your family the types of disasters that could take place and what could be done in each case.
Maintain a close relationship with God.
This can help in any circumstance. The Bible speaks of God as “the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation.” Another verse describes him as the God “who comforts those laid low.”—2 Corinthians 1:3, 4; 7:6.
Yes, God is keenly aware of the circumstances coming upon those who put faith in him. He is a God of love and provides uplifting encouragement in various ways. (1 John 4:8) Prayers, not for miracles but for God’s powerful holy spirit, can provide help in any situation. The holy spirit can bring to mind Bible passages that can be comforting and soothing to those experiencing adversities. Truly, God’s faithful servants can feel as did David, a king of ancient Israel, who said: “Even though I walk in the valley of deep shadow, I fear nothing bad, for you are with me; your rod and your staff are the things that comfort me.”—Psalm 23:4.
Prayer, not for miracles but for powerful holy spirit, can provide help in any situation
Fellow Christians help one another.
In the first century, a Christian prophet named Agabus indicated that “a great famine was about to come upon the entire inhabited earth; which, for that matter, did take place in the time of Claudius.” The famine severely affected many of Jesus’ disciples in Judea. What did the disciples elsewhere do when they heard of their fellow Christians’ plight? The account states: “Those of the disciples determined, each of them according as anyone could afford it, to send a relief ministration to the brothers dwelling in Judea.” (Acts 11:28, 29) They lovingly responded by providing relief supplies.
Fellow Christians help one another to deal with the effects of disasters
When severe calamities occur today, God’s servants respond similarly. Being in association with those who love God can be a great aid during times of adversity. Even so, will there ever be a time when the earth will be rid of the curse of disasters? Let us see what the Bible has to say on this subject.
Even though natural disasters seem to be here to stay, there is a basis for real hope that this will change. The change, however, will not come through human efforts. Humans are not able to understand fully how and why things happen in nature, much less control or change them. King Solomon of ancient Israel, noted for his wisdom and keen observation, wrote: “Mankind are not able to find out the work that has been done under the sun; however much mankind keep working hard to seek, yet they do not find out. And even if they should say they are wise enough to know, they would be unable to find out.”—Ecclesiastes 8:17.
If humans cannot control natural disasters, who can? The Bible identifies our Creator as the one to make this change. He is the One who put the earth’s ecological systems, such as the water cycle, in place. (Ecclesiastes 1:7) And in sharp contrast with humans, God has unlimited power at his disposal. Testifying to this fact, the prophet Jeremiah said: “O Sovereign Lord Jehovah! Here you yourself have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm. The whole matter is not too wonderful for you yourself.” (Jeremiah 32:17) Since God made the earth and all its elements, logically he knows how to manage things so that people can dwell on it in peace and security.—Psalm 37:11; 115:16.
How, then, will God bring about the needed change? You will recall further up in the text mentioned that the many terrifying things taking place on the earth today make up a “sign” marking “the conclusion of the system of things.” Jesus said: “When you see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Matthew 24:3; Luke 21:31) The Kingdom of God, a heavenly government of God’s making, will bring about big changes on the earth, even bringing natural elements under control. Though Jehovah God has the power to do this himself, he has chosen to delegate the task to his Son. Speaking of this one, the prophet Daniel said: “To him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him.”—Daniel 7:14.
God’s Son, Jesus Christ, has been given the power necessary to bring about all the changes needed to make the earth a delightful place. Two thousand years ago, when Jesus was on earth, he demonstrated on a small scale his ability to control the natural elements. On one occasion, when he and his disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, “a great violent windstorm broke out, and the waves kept dashing into the boat, so that the boat was close to being swamped.” His disciples panicked. Fearing for their lives, they turned to Jesus. What did Jesus do? He simply “rebuked the wind and said to the sea: ‘Hush! Be quiet!’ And the wind abated, and a great calm set in.” His disciples were amazed and asked: “Who really is this, because even the wind and the sea obey him?”—Mark 4:37-41.
Since then, Jesus has been elevated to the spirit realm and has been given even greater power and authority. As the King of God’s Kingdom, he has the responsibility as well as the ability to administer all the changes necessary to give people a peaceful and secure life on earth.
However, as we have seen, many of the problems and disasters are man-made, caused or made worse by the exploits of selfish and greedy individuals. What will the Kingdom do about those who persist in such ways and refuse to change? The Bible speaks of the Lord Jesus coming “from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.” Yes, he will “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.”—2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8; Revelation 11:18.
Afterward, this “King of kings,” Jesus Christ, will assert full control of earth’s elements. (Revelation 19:16) He will make sure that the subjects of the Kingdom no longer suffer any calamities. He will use his power to regulate the meteorological elements so that the weather and seasonal cycles will work to the benefit of mankind. The result will be the realization of what Jehovah God long ago promised to his people: “I shall also certainly give your showers of rain at their proper time, and the land will indeed give its yield, and the tree of the field will give its fruit.” (Leviticus 26:4) People will be able to build houses without fear of losing them in some calamity: “They will certainly build houses and have occupancy; and they will certainly plant vineyards and eat their fruitage.”—Isaiah 65:21.
What Must You Do?
No doubt you, like many others, are attracted to the idea of living in a world with no more devastating disasters. What, though, do you have to do to be there? Since “those who do not know God” and “those who do not obey the good news” will not qualify to live in the disaster-free world to come, it is clear that one must now learn about God and support his arrangement for rulership of the earth. God requires that we come to know him and obey the good news of the Kingdom that he has set up through his Son.
The best way to learn to do this is through a careful study of the Bible. It contains the instructions for qualifying to live in the secure environment that will exist under Kingdom rulership. Study to learn what the Bible teaches. One thing’s sure—if you make the effort to know God and to obey the good news, then the words of Proverbs 1:33 will come true in your case: “As for the one listening to me, he will reside in security and be undisturbed from dread of calamity.”