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Does God cause natural disasters? Do they happen for a reason?

Jesus rebukes the storm

This post was originally written a year ago as a response to beliefs in the Philippines church that God causes natural disasters in the Philippines to punish them for their sinfulness. I want to be clear: God did not cause typhoon “Haiyan” (Yolanda) to punish the philippines for sin!

As a follower of Jesus, and bible teacher, I believe Jesus life and example are the complete revelation of God’s character.  This is what the first century church believed but because of major events in the 5th centruy the church lost these beliefs. I regret that. But, I am thankful to be living in a time when people all over the world are rediscovering the original conviction that God always looks 100% like Jesus. He is always loving, serving and he showed us his complete character on the cross that killed him by forgiving his enemies as they killed him, and in his resurrection from death he gave his friends and enemies new life.

Jesus shows us how God treats evil and bad things in the world. Here is my reflection on a famous story about Jesus and how it helps us understand how God interacts with evil.

Jesus and the Storm

There is a story where Jesus was in a small boat with his disciples and a storm surprised them… the disciples panicked and were frozen in fear! The boat was too small and they were too helpless, they were certain everyone was going to die as the boat was filling with water.

The disciples fought their way to Jesus who was peacefully sleeping in the back of the boat on a pillow tired after teaching and talking with 5000 people and miraculously feeding them all. Jesus was started and when he awoke, and saw the fear of his followers he rebuked (commanded, or threatened, in Greek the original bible language) the storm, instructing it, “Quiet, be still!” The storm broke, calmed, and went away peacefully.

What does this mean?
The Ancient people who wrote the scriptures believed that water, the ocean was a place of chaos and home for evil. This was the home of all that opposes order and God’s good creation. We see that oppose of this in the creation narrative where God creates order and brings order out of the ocean by using his athrity to shape it. In the same way as the creation story to Jesus shows his sovereignty over this chaotic storm in this narrative. He is the creator walking on earth and this is one of the ways he shows his disciples his authority over all of creation.
He does not create the storm as a test. Not as a motivator for his disciples to change, grow or mature. Not as a way to motivate them to be more faithful or repent. The story does not tell us he testing the disciples or causing the storm, but that he interacts with it and takes authority over the wind and the waves. He is God the creator and nothing has power above Him. The storm must bend to his will, even though there is no evidence that it originated from him.
After they event, Jesus asked his disciples, “Why were you afraid? Why do you have so little faith?” and the disciples whispered to one another in amazement, “Even the wind and waves obey him?! Who is this guy?”
The story shows us that the disciples believe that the storm is a force outside of God; this perspective is consistent with Jesus’ interaction with the storm and the ancient worldview. They believed humanity lived in the middle of a spiritual conflict between God and evil. The storm was under Jesus authority, just like all creation, but it is independent of him in origin. This is one example which provides a helpful lens for how God interacts with evil (forces and beings who act outside of God’s perfect loving will) in His broken creation.
In the midst of this war with evil, God invited us to experience perfect peace and harmony even with his creation (storms and all). He showed us this with his whole life on earth as Jesus of Nazareth. The stories leading up to the storm (Matt 8:1-22) teach us that in the midst of our storms (physical, spiritual, emotional, personal and communal), Jesus calls us to follow him with trust and ask how do I respond like jesus. Like the 90’s: What would Jesus do?
God’s perfect love always opposes evil and death; Jesus affirms this with divine authority since he is the complete example of Gods Character (Heb 1:1-3). God is the King of all creation, and his kingdom is a place of perfect peace (In biblical languages salaam/shalom or eirene). Anything outside of harmonious & reconciled relationships with God, one neighbors, ourselves and creation is against God’s plan. Therefore, storms, destruction and suffering of any kind are outside of God’s perfect love for us and are never caused by God even though he can and does turn them around and bring good out of the evil things that happen in this world.
  1. I’ve been asked “How do you respond to Isaiah 45:7/Lamentations 3:37–38?” Which seem to have God claiming that He has caused every “calamity.” Follow that link to see a great article about it.
  2. Also, Many people have asked for a deeper explanation of the theological perspective behind this article called the open view, or Tpen Theism. Please follow this link to a short video clip that addresses many of these questions directly and then if you have more thought and would like to discuss further you can send me a message through my contacts or @darnellbarkman on Twitter.
  • Thank you so much for your encouragement! I hope we can see one another again some day. Blessings sister!

  • Thx so much. 🙂

  • , My hnbasud and I had the plresuae of hearing you preach at Church on the move not to long ago, you have been blessed with a sense of humor and we loved it! You were all over that stage! I love your energy! It was refreshing to hear your bold message in such a passionate way. I was beginning to think that Pastor George and his group of pastors were the only ones excited about what they do! Your message has inspired my family to step it up and not just follow but lead. Thank you! on 04 October 2011 / 7:05 AM

  • Thanks for the comment, and the encouragement! I’ve been through a long personal journey with these questions and I’m glad to know that some of the questions and answers I’ve come to terms with resonate with you also. I really value these discussions a lot, it also helps me as I think thought other things and explore new issues with people all over the world. 🙂

  • Jaran

    Hi Darnell,
    This is my first visit to your website. After reading several of your posts, I have come to appreciate the answers you give to the issues you discuss.
    While reading this post, I had to think of the time in Luke 13 where Jesus discussed the issue of a seemingly accidental or natural disaster. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no.”

    Thanks for creating a truthful and positive influence.

  • HI Donna,
    Thanks for sharing that Donna. So many theological systems that we inherit don’t stand up to the realities of life on earth. I have a few friends who’ve lost loved ones recently and some of them really felt like the deaths were unjust. When I was growing up and I had a Calvinist perspective I would ask, “If God’s will for us is to love him and our neighbors but he’ll allow such unjust things to happen why would I believe he has good plans for me and choose to follow him?” It never made sense.

    Since then I’ve met Jesus in prayer so tangibly and really have so much peace with Him as the face of our creator and the one who loves us infinity.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Donna

    I appreciate your article, Darnell. I especially was struck by the statement that, ” … Jesus’ life and example are the complete revelation of God’s character.” I tend to have a disconnect between Old Testament God the Father and New Testament Jesus. I’ve been wrestling with the whole Calvinism v. Arminianism view of events since my brother took his life in 2007. That took my Christian faith and pretty much shook the hell out of it, and I’ve been trying to grope my way back to a deeper understanding of Jesus and the nature of catastrophic events since then. I’m coming to the conclusions that you’ve stated in your article, although I know Calvinists would strongly disagree, and I plan to save a copy of your article to refer to in the future when my faith gets shaky. Thanks again–