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There’s Nothing Natural About Disasters

It seems like it’s just been one after another. First Harvey, then Irma, then earthquakes in Mexico, then Maria hitting Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. One devastating blow after another that’s leaving destruction and death in its wake. And so often the vulnerable members of society are the ones who suffer the most. Certainly there are scientific explanations for these disasters. How do we also combine science and theology to make sense of these events on both a physical and biblical level?

The earth is marred by sin

In Christian circles we can speak readily about human sin and the effects of our spiritual brokenness on our relationships and experience of the world. What we often overlook is the perspective that sin in the world led to the brokenness of the creation as well.

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.” – Genesis 3:17-19 (NIV)

Just as human relationships and our connection with God were broken at the Fall, our relationship to the creation was also broken. We were meant to work collaboratively with the earth, to cultivate it and unlock its potential and the earth was designed to make that an easy partnership. Part of the curse of sin is now that partnership is much harder than it should have been. In the same way that I don’t always make good decisions and I hurt others through thoughtless actions, the earth is also unable to function at its best. Natural disasters don’t happen because God likes them. They happen because the earth is limited by sin and the creation itself expresses the brokenness of the Fall.

The earth is groaning

When the earth feels like it’s lashing out, it reflects a longing for something deeper.

20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. – Romans 8:20-23 (NIV)

How many times has your soul groaned over the pain and suffering you see in the world? How many times have you wanted things to be very different from the way they are now? Perhaps you are feeling that very acutely if you were directly impacted by the recent storms. What Paul is describing here in Romans is a shared longing for renewal. We feel dissatisfied with the ills of the world because we instinctively know that something better is possible. The human spirit was designed for eternity in such a way that we can never forget the wholeness for which we were created. The earth was also created for wholeness and flourishing and waits with us for the restoration yet to come. Humans and the earth were created to be together. Our sin caused the subjection of the earth to malfunctioning. Earthquakes and hurricanes and droughts are symptoms of the earth’s groans as it longs for freedom and redemption. When disasters occur, they remind us that all is not as it should be and to hope in what is still to come.

A Divine reflection

Men and women are created and called to have dominion (or management) over the earth. We alone among all created things are made in the image of God to show the world what God looks like. But the earth also has a role to play in revealing who God is:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge. – Psalm 19:1-2 (NIV)

20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. – Romans 1:20 (NIV)

Our relationship to the creation is a two-way street. Our human ability to reason, innovate, and create reflect God’s creative power. And the beauty and vastness of the universe reflect God’s incredible might and love for all things beautiful and true. In the same way that a film reflects the personality and interests of the filmmaker, we are meant to look at the physical world and see the heart of the Creator.

While we are called to manage the earth, we are not called to control it. The ocean is perhaps the best example of this. It is profoundly beautiful and mysterious. It is full of natural resources that enable human thriving. And it is wild and utterly beyond our control. It is simultaneously terrifying and captivating, and so it is with God. In a difficult but important way, the natural world reminds us that we are not in control. The elements can never be fully mastered, in the same way that God is above our mastery. God does not delight in death and destruction, but He does delight in our humility and compassion that so often follow a disaster. Remembering that we are not in control results in reordered priorities and movements towards unity. The lessons we learn in the wake of turmoil can teach us more about our place in the world and our call to love and serve others.

Renewed partnership

Finally, we have the opportunity to see natural disasters as a renewed call to manage well. If humans and the earth were created for each other, to each proclaim to the cosmos who God is, then our mutual relationship can be marked by joy. Are we fully honoring the creation’s Divine reflection? Are we utilizing our call to cultivate to the best of our ability? Rather than fighting the earth and trying to wrestle control through exploitation, we can reconnect with our original collaboration. What if we asked ourselves more often whether our lifestyles and community practices were motivated by Godly stewardship? What if we always saw the world around us as belonging to the Lord and worthy of gentleness? The more we know and love God, the more we will see God’s character reflected in the creation, and the more we will reflect God’s image within us. Disasters give us the opportunity to repent over the brokenness of the world. To humble ourselves before a mighty God, and to move forward in the hope of God’s ability to restore all things.

Please consider joining with the Body of Christ to respond to brothers and sisters in need. Donate to World Relief or the organization of your choice

 

 

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