The destruction of natural disasters and the exceeding malevolence of human behavior that cause loss of life inevitably raise questions regarding the role of God in them. The outbreak of tornadoes in Alabama and other southern states proves no exception.
Unfortunately, a common response is to turn to books such as When Bad Things Happen to Good People. This is unfortunate because while there are certainly bad things, in God’s economy there are no “good people.”
In tornadoes and the destruction they cause we see the stark reality of how powerful the world is, and how powerful the God who created it, and how weak and helpless we are in the face of such power. Scripture teaches that death — and all the sickness, accidents, and disasters that cause it — are the result of the sin of man. The world groans until God relieves it of its agony, and we suffer the consequences of its groaning.
Scripture also teaches that there are none who are good. There are none righteous. All our righteousness — all our “good things” that justify us before God — are as filthy rags to God (picture used women’s menstrual products). In such condition we all are deserving only of the wrath of God.
It should be no surprise, then, that people die. In fact, all of human history supports the conclusion that people die. Whether we die in our 80s in the comfort of our own bed, or in a car crash at the hands of a drunk driver, or in a tornado when the wall of our house falls on us, we can expect that our physical bodies will die. What should be the surprise to us — sinful people who deserve nothing but the wrath of God — is that God hasn’t already killed us.
The surprise is not that some die, but that any live.
Our inclination in response to such disasters is to soften the impact of what they teach by speaking of God “making something good of this.” We suppose that God’s role — whatever it might be — in such death and destruction is somehow made alright if he brings some “good” from it.
But God need not make good from bad. Not in the normal sense of “good.”
Jesus encountered the same question regarding disasters. Some people had been killed by Pilate and some had died when a tower fell on them (Luke 13:1-5). Jesus anticipates the question we all ask: “do you suppose that these…were worse offenders” than others? As we like to put it, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?, and the underlying assumption that either those who die in disasters are particularly bad or that God is powerless or evil.
Jesus said that those who died in progroms or falling towers were no worse than anyone else. In other words, everyone is equally bad. All people are equally sinful and equally deserving of “bad things.” Jesus did not explain the role of God, or why the tower fell on these and not others standing ten feet away, or assure his listeners that God would bring “good” from the tragedies.
He did, however, issue a warning.
He used the occasion of natural disasters and human tragedy to say “unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” Death is always at your door. You do not know when your life will be required of you. All men are equally deserving of death, so turn from sin and put your trust in God who alone gives eternal life in Christ. The surprise is that God permits repentance, and that he accepts those who do, in Christ.
Human tragedy is the cause of real human grief. Disasters give rise to the human duty to help restore people and alleviate suffering.
Yet still, repent, and believe the gospel.