A Biblical Perspective
[This was written less than a week after this hurricane struck]
Death, of course, is nothing new on this
planet, and anyone old enough to understand the nature of life recognizes this.
The issue of comprehending death and suffering in terms of a loving God has once again hit the media airwaves in response to this week’s devastating and deadly hurricane. With enormous physical destruction to buildings and property, and with a death toll numbering in the hundreds, Katrina is one of the greatest natural disasters our country has ever experienced, although the loss of life was much less than was originally projected by the news media. [On September 8, 1900, a devastating hurricane hit Galveston, Texas and more than 6,000 men, women and children lost their lives. The Johnstown Flood killed about 2,200 people.]
The Lord Jesus spoke of disastrous events that happen which result in the loss of life:
There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. 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 (Luke 13:1-5).
The Lord mentioned two sad events that his audience was familiar with. One was caused by the wicked actions of sinful men; the other was the result of a freak accident. The first event involved the Roman Governor Pilate. Apparently some people who lived in Galilee came to the temple in Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices and were suddenly cut down or murdered by Pilate and his men. This event was viewed in this way, "The victims of Pilate’s wrath must have been very wicked, indeed; otherwise God would not have allowed them to be put to death in this fashion."
The second event was accidental. The tower of Siloam was a tower built inside the southeast portion of Jerusalem’s wall. It was located near the pool of Siloam. One day this tower fell crushing eighteen people to death. Did God allow these people to be crushed because they were more sinful and more wicked than the other people living in Jerusalem?
"I tell you, Nay (NO). But, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
We are all guilty sinners deserving of an eternal death. What happened to those murdered by Pilate, those crushed by the tower of Siloam, and the thousands who died as the result of Katrina is sad and tragic, but it is minor compared to the fate that awaits unrepentant sinners and those who refuse to respond in faith to the work of love that Christ accomplished for all sinners when He died in our place on the cross. Being murdered by a tyrant, being crushed by a tower, being drowned in a flood caused by a hurricane—these things are not as serious as suffering eternally in hell. Rejecting Jesus Christ has monumental and eternal consequences.
When such tragic events take place in our world and in our
country, it is a sober opportunity to remember that we all have an appointment
with death (an appointment which make take place at any time), and to make sure
that we are prepared for this eventuality. "And as it is appointed unto men once
to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). "Except ye repent, ye shall
all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5).
J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) comments are well taken:
How much more ready people are to talk of the deaths of others than their own. The death of the Galileans, mentioned here in Luke 13, was probably a common subject of conversation in Jerusalem and all Judea. We can well believe that all the circumstances and particulars belonging to it were continually discussed by thousands who never thought of their own latter end. It is just the same in the present day. A murder, a sudden death, a shipwreck [or plane crash] will completely occupy the minds of a neighborhood, and be in the mouth of every one you meet. And yet these very persons dislike talking of their own deaths, and their own prospects in the world beyond the grave. Such is human nature in every age. [Comments under Luke 13, in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels]
The state of our own souls should always be our first concern. It is eminently true that real Christians will always begin at home. The converted man will always think first of his own heart, his own life, his own deserts, and his own sins. Does he hear of a sudden death? He will say to himself, "Should I have been found ready, if this had happened to me?" Let us feel tender pity and compassion for all who suffer violence, or are removed by sudden death. But let us never forget to look at home, and to learn wisdom for ourselves from all that happens to others.
Just as the people in the Lord’s day assumed that certain people met their untimely deaths because they were more sinful than others, so today some are following this same line of thinking. There is no question that New Orleans was a sinful city, often displaying its depravity in the most shameful ways. For example, hurricane Katrina caused the cancellation of the 34th Southern Decadence Festival (known as "the gay Mardi Gras") which was scheduled to be held in New Orleans August 31 to Sept. 5. Due to circumstances beyond human control (a mammoth hurricane!), the above Festival was canceled. According to the Advocate gay website, "revelers" will not be parading their decadent lifestyles as had been planned. The Southern Decadence Web site estimates that the event would have brought in $100 million to the New Orleans economy!
Katrina took care of this event! One believer commented, "Most likely, in eternity alone will it be known for sure if Katrina was designed by our Sovereign God as a specific disciplinary, cleansing storm (Psalms 107:25; 135:7; 147:18; 148:8; Isaiah 28:1, 2; Job 38:34, 35), or just a coincidental and generic ‘act of nature.’ All I can say is that it is certainly highly conspicuous that Katrina ‘just happened’ to arrive just as one of the largest gay festivals was about to get underway."
But exactly why God visits one city with devastation and not another is known to God but not to us. Was New Orleans more sinful than Miami or New York or Los Angeles or Hartford? Was New Orleans more depraved than San Francisco? It is an exercise in futility to try to compare various degrees of wickedness among differing population centers. Our entire country has turned its back on God. Again we must return to the words of our Lord, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
The Ultimate Cause
Those who are ignorant of the first book in the Bible are at a loss to be able to explain the meaning of death and suffering such as we have all witnessed this past week. Without taking anything at all away from the anguishing grief resulting from this latest terrible catastrophe, what happened, in an ultimate sense, really happens on a daily basis and it’s as a consequence of an event that occurred on the saddest day in the history of the universe: when the first man Adam rebelled against the Creator thus bringing sin and death into a once perfect world.
Death is now a "normal" part of this "abnormal" world. Consider these:
Every year in America alone, over
160,000 people die from "unintentional injuries"/vehicle accidents (a 2002
About six million Jews were exterminated by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust. [Some have questioned the "six million" figure, but no one can question the unparalleled genocide experienced by the Jewish people]
There were approximately 620,000 deaths caused by the American Civil War in the 1860s.
Almost 3,000 people died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks (New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania) and 2,200 died in the Johnstown Flood.
When a major tragedy captures global attention, there is usually some discussion in the media concerning how such things can be understood in terms of a loving God. Often, certain Christian leaders are asked for their response. Meanwhile, humanists will often claim that there can’t be a loving God because of such a horrible calamity.
But, consider the following from a "big picture" perspective:
Frankly, all those who died or who will die as the result of the hurricane were going to have to die one day because they were all descendants of Adam. People may question the timing but the event is not in question. Death is inevitable. All have sinned in Adam and thus all were sentenced to die some day. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) and "it is appointed unto men to die once but after this comes the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).
The reason for death is that all humans have committed high
treason against our Creator because we sinned in Adam. The Bible makes it clear
in Romans 5 that what Adam did, we did, because we are his descendants—we have
inherited his nature. And we all demonstrate a fallen nature and rebel against God’s law, even as Adam did.
Because we have rebelled against our Creator (our sin), we forfeited our right to live. However, the loving Creator God, who is infinite in knowledge, wisdom and power, knowing what would happen, had worked out a plan of salvation for mankind even before Adam sinned.
God provided a plan of salvation so that the penalty for sin could be paid by His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. By suffering death and bearing the guilt of our sin (dying on the Cross) and conquering death (by His Resurrection), the free gift of salvation was made available to all. "By grace you are saved through faith, and that is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8–9).
The point is: we are dead in trespasses and sins and we face eternal death (which involves being separated from God and suffering in hell forever). We are all in need of God's saving solution in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Without Him we rightly must face God's eternal hell. However, our Creator is such a loving God (knowing that we would sin) that He planned to step into history to pay for our sin and provide a way for us to be able to be reconciled to God and to live forever with Him.
The Bible clearly explains why we die. Every death should be a reminder that we are sinners in need of receiving the free gift of salvation that our Creator, Jesus Christ, has paid for.
The Bible also explains why there are catastrophes. Romans 8:19–23 tells us the "the whole creation groans" because of sin. Originally, before sin, there couldn’t have been any catastrophes or hurricanes or tsunamis or death or suffering. But today all of nature is groaning under the curse.
Some say that if God is all-powerful, He should have stopped this calamity. Even though God could have (and no doubt has done so at times probably without us even realizing His protection for us), we have to remember that we no longer live in a perfect world. Until the final Consummation, people will continue to die. Calamitous events will still occur. As bad as Katrina was, it could have been far worse, but thanks to God's grace and mercy, it struck land with less power than had been originally predicted. As things continue to run down in this world, they no doubt will be even more catastrophic in the future [compare the plagues during the tribulation period]. As an infinitely powerful Creator, God must have morally good reasons for allowing things to continue at the present time. We can’t always see those reasons. As He says, "My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).
Concerning the very significant loss of life, including young children, we don’t have all the answers. We are finite beings. But as Abraham said, "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). In spite of what men consider a terrible tragedy, Christians can rest in the knowledge that our infinite, loving Creator God who paid for our salvation will do right. There will be no injustice. God is good and God is love even though we cannot always understand His ways. To see God’s love in its fullest manifestation we must not look at any natural disaster (wherein God’s power is amply demonstrated), but we must look to Calvary’s cross (Rom. 5:8; 1 John 4:10; 3:16).
People continue to ask, "WHY does God allow such tragedies to take place?" Another question might be, "Why are there so few natural disasters in the light of all that could be?" An even better question to ask is this: Why does a truly holy and all-powerful God extend His saving grace to someone as undeserving as me? This question provokes a response of a lifetime of humble and eternally rewarding worship of a great and mercifully loving God.
George Zeller (9/3/05)
Some of this material [relating to the fall of man] was taken from comments Ken Ham made with respect to the Tsunami disaster which predated Katrina.