By Katherine Fedor and Kyle T. Panter, PharmD
The images of utter devastation wrought upon the city of Houston as a result of Hurricane Harvey were heartbreaking. Almost simultaneously, half-way around the world, millions of people were struggling to survive torrential flooding in Nepal, Bangladesh, and India. Mexico’s strongest earthquake in a century caused havoc and took far too many lives. And then Hurricane Irma tore through many Caribbean islands before unleashing devastating damage in the Florida Keys, taking lives, and knocking out power to more than half of the state’s homes and businesses. All the while, each life and livelihood lost belongs to one of God’s kids. So much destruction, upheaval, and loss. Where is God in natural disasters like Irma and Harvey, global flooding, Mexico’s earthquake, and so many others?
Natural disasters obviously have the greatest impact on residents in their path—but in a way, they affect us all. We wonder, What if that happened to me? How would I cope? How would I survive? For those experiencing the aftermath of a natural disaster yourself, you may be wondering, Where was God? How could He let me go through this? Is He really in control? Has He forgotten me? Does He even exist?
Do not be afraid to bring your questions to God. A faith with big answers is a faith with big questions. He cares for you and He will listen to you.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34:18 NLT
Here are some of your questions along with some evidence of God’s character and history with tragedy and disaster.
Where was God during this natural disaster?
God is right with you all the time. He cares deeply about you and longs to carry your heavy burdens for you.
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Psalm 68:19 NIV
Storms in the Bible were often followed by God’s love and grace.
Noah’s boat and God’s promise. Jonah’s fish and God’s grace for a nation. Jesus rides out the storm with us. These stories show us a God who’s in our boat come high water, who can turn a terribly nasty storm into an instrument of tremendous blessing. God can do something miraculous in the lives affected by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunami, floods, mudslides, wildfires, and all the scariest devastation our untamed planet can bring. God can turn what seems like the worst end into a brand new, beautiful beginning.
How could God let me go through this?
There is no simple answer here. There are stories in the Bible, like Noah’s flood, Job’s trials, and John the Baptist where God clearly allowed suffering. There are other stories that focus more on God’s response to suffering or His providence as a way out of devastation. It’s important not to make quick assumptions about God’s role in weather and natural events spurred on by an imperfect planet. Instead, let’s focus on how God responds when disaster strikes His own family.
Jesus, God’s Son, was betrayed to enemies by a close friend, tied up, wrongly accused, condemned, mocked, spat upon, tortured, and killed. He was abandoned and alone as He suffered. He even asked God, His Father, why He had forsaken Him. You can read about it in Matthew chapter 27.
In response to our own natural human tragedy of sin and shame, God gave us His whole self through Jesus at the cross, when Jesus laid it all down for us, His family. What if instead of asking, “How could God let me go through this natural disaster?” we start asking, “How is God going through this with me? How will God provide a way out on the other side of this destruction?”
Watch When God Doesn’t Make Sense.
God is not intimidated by His own creation.
In the midst of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, with water threatening to swamp the boat, the disciples found Jesus asleep. There isn’t a storm on the planet that can frighten or surprise our God. As He commanded the waves on that particular night, we can trust that Jesus will bring calm into our lives as well. And it’s not just our temporary, earthly life that Jesus died to save. He overcame the world once and for all when He gave up His earthly life for your eternal life.
Every day we’re breathing is pure grace and mercy, and demonstrates God’s patience with humanity. … he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 NIV
The enemy brings death and destruction; God brings life.
Despair, hopelessness, and fear are not attributes of our God. These are from your spiritual enemy, and they are meant to destroy you. As powerful as these seem, our God is much more powerful. Luke 10:18 gives us a picture of God’s power over Satan in action. Jesus’ words in John 10:10 make a great filter for discovering whether something is from God or from Satan:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10 NIV
One day, God will restore all things.
Jesus said, “Behold I am making all things new.” Which brings up something that can help in understanding God’s place in the midst of natural disasters: this world is not the end. It’s just the beginning.
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation … 2 Peter 3:11-15 NIV
What does God want me to do about this natural disaster?
The same thing He always wants: love God and love people. One of the best ways to love God is simply to trust Him. Trust God while you’re afraid, while the outlook is uncertain, and while the future seems bleak. That’s real trust. Call out to Him. Put all your hope in Him. Thank Him for each small or big thing you see that is good, in the middle of what generally looks bad.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. Psalm 56:3 NIV
There is an abundance of opportunity to love people after a hurricane has come through, by helping them in practical ways. If you live close to affected areas, look into volunteering with a disaster recovery and response organization like Convoy of Hope, Samaritan’s Purse, and others. If you live far, pray, give, and reach out to loved ones who are affected.
When you have the least, God gives you the most of Himself.
Let the very words of Jesus bring you comfort, peace, and calm in the midst of natural disasters. His words are true and dependable. He knows your pain. No article can respond to or answer everything you or your loved ones might be experiencing. Let Jesus’ words speak to your heart when nothing else can make sense of what your eyes are seeing:
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. Matthew 5:3-4 MSG
Where is God in natural disasters like Irma, Harvey, and so many others?
He’s with you.