Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar (formerly Burma) on May 2. Just ten days later, an earthquake registering 7.8 on the richter scale was centered in the Sichuan Province of China. The numbers of dead, missing, and displaced are astounding and continue to grow daily. Our hearts and prayers certainly go out to all the victims of these two natural disasters.
When such tragic things happen, speculations and theories abound as to causes, reasons, and attempts to explain the unexplainable. Theologians and pastors are often consulted in these quests for answers to which the usual responses are either judgment from God or that God in no way had anything whatsoever to do with such horrible circumstances. Both replies are simply insufficient.
When natural disasters occur, it seems to be an inclination of the human mind to conclude that some sin or bad behavior is being judged or punished or that karma has taken effect. That's exactly what Job's three friends concluded, and they were wrong. Interestingly enough, Buddhists in Myanmar attribute the cyclone to retribution upon the current Junta regime, and actress Sharon Stone posited the reason for China's earthquake could possibly be their mistreatment of the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet. Could these postulations be accurate? Maybe. It is widely known that both governments have persecuted the Church and enacted policies that seriously violate human rights. But without revelation from God as to why these things have occurred, we finite, fallen humans should not dare to speak on behalf of the Almighty or we may find ourselves in the position of chastisement, as did Job's friends!
On the other hand, to propose that God is in no way involved in tragedy and the loss of life is simply unbiblical and actually destroys the very shield it desires to uphold, namely, comfort. I would encourage these well-intentioned theologians to listen to a few words from an ancient spokesman for God, the prophet Amos. Amos 3:6b says, "Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?" The short-term remedy may be to think that God had no influence at all in such a thing. However, the long-term conclusion would be that some things are simply out of His control. That means He is not truly sovereign. On the contrary, however, He is sovereign. And whether by decree or guided permission, He rules in the affairs of His creation, even the tragic ones. This would mean that there is some purpose somehow, and in some way God will work this for His glory and the good of His people. That is the biblical conclusion, and the only conclusion that will bring lasting comfort.
I do believe there is something we can affirm in such tragedies as these and that is that God uses disasters at times as a means to further the Gospel and save His people. May I suggest 4 results of disaster that make way for the Gospel.
1. The opportunity for mercy ministries abound in the aftermath of disaster. It's difficult to demonstrate God's love to people when they have no need of your assistance. However, when a man who has never been thirsty finds himself in a place with no drinking water, an outstretched hand offering a bottle of Aquafina is a welcome sight! The witness to the Gospel in such acts is extraordinary. Whether through an immediate verbal testimony of faith or the realization that a Christian ministry was there to help, the Gospel is fleshed out in mercy ministries.
2. The shaking of the ground or the falling of the skies may open clouded minds to truth. Devastation on such a massive scale reminds humanity that man is small, frail, and unable to control the world.
3. The opening of minds may also open hearts. When one is forced into a situation that renders him totally helpless, completely shattered, and begging for mercy, there is no greater opportunity for that individual to hear of the gracious, merciful, everlasting, ever-loving God of the Bible!
4. The term "closed-country" means that a nation's government refuses to allow missionaries within its borders and makes every effort to stop the advance of the Gospel among its nationals through various forms of persecution and oppression. Sometimes God opens closed countries through disasters via foreign aid. Recently, we have observed that some governments have refused foreign aid for this very reason. However, this puts hostile governments at a strong disadvantage. If they refuse foreign aid, they will incite the masses to rebellion. For what people can tolerate a government that will allow them to starve when it is in their power to alleviate their hunger? Consequently, if they accept foreign aid, even with stipulations, the Gospel witness will present itself someway, somehow! Darkness simply cannot put out light! Amos 5:8-9 says, "He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord is his name; who makes destruction flash forth against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress."
So let us give aid to Burma and China, and let us go and serve the victims if given the chance. But most of all, let us pray that in the aftermath of such horrendous tragedy, the glorious Gospel may find good ground and flourish!